Exclusive, luxurious, unrivaled in every way. These are a few of the terms often used to describe the artisan beef type known as Wagyu. As purveyors of the finest cuts of A5 Japanese Wagyu anywhere, we often get asked the question: does this remarkable beef come exclusively from Japan? The short answer is yes - at least in its purest, most authentic form. The long answer is a bit more complex, so read on for the details.
What Is Authentic Wagyu?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritties, let's cover some of the basics about authentic Japanese Wagyu beef. True Wagyu encompasses four breeds of Japanese cattle - Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn) and Mukaku (Polled), with the Black Wagyu cattle most revered for its unique, intramuscular fat marbling. These cattle were originally bred to work in agriculture, primarily to haul food and materials. As a result, they have stronger forequarters and more fat cells within their muscles, which are distributed more evenly.
Over decades, Japanese farmers have honed their raising and cultivation techniques to ensure that cattle develop a consistently high fat content. In addition to keeping the cattle's working bloodline pure, feeding involves a high-energy diet and keeping cattle in a low-stress grazing environment. Consequently, the meat from these cows is extraordinarily fatty, offering highly abundant marbling with a delicious, rich flavor that's often described as "buttery."
Can Wagyu be Raised Outside of Japan?
In 1997, Japan designated Wagyu as a national treasure and began an export ban on cattle, which has helped keep Wagyu nearly entirely exclusive to Japan. However, some farmers in other countries have been able to source DNA to cross with their native breeds.
In theory, authentic 100% full-blood Wagyu could be raised outside of Japan, but we don't have regulations or strict testing in the same way the Japanese do. According to the American Wagyu Association, there are no Polled or Shorthorn Wagyu bred outside of Japan. In Japan, great care is taken to prove pedigree and bloodline, while stringent ratings ensure the best quality. In fact, progeny testing is mandatory in Japan to ensure that only the best genes are maintained for breeding.
The Japanese Meat Grading Association sets forth rigorous standards to ensure that the quality and authenticity of Wagyu is fiercely protected. So, as a rule of thumb, if you're going for totally authentic and premium quality, stick with Japanese.
If you want to experience the real thing, get to know some of the specific breeds and brands known for their quality. Miyazakigyu beef from Miyazaki Prefecture and Poroshiri beef from Hokkaido Prefecture are options that will never disappoint. Today, modern shipping and food handling technologies allow Japanese Wagyu to be processed and packed abroad before being shipped and sold fresh in the U.S. and around the world.
What is American Wagyu?
American Wagyu is a cross between Wagyu cattle and American cattle, such as Angus. Though it is not considered authentic and is graded by the USDA rather than the Japanese Meat Grading Association, American Wagyu still brings a truly spectacular eating experience thanks to the Wagyu's premium DNA. One wonderful thing about American Wagyu is that it offers exceptional marbling and tenderness but retains some of the robust beef flavor Americans are used to.