If you're an epicurean of any sort or at least enjoy a good steak every now and then, you've no doubt heard about Wagyu beef. This ultra-luxury Japanese beef is revered around the world for its superb marbling and delicate, buttery texture. But if Wagyu is so delicious - and, trust us, it is - why isn't it on every menu and in every supermarket in America?
The truth is that Wagyu is not rare in the traditional sense, not like a 10-carat diamond or a limited-edition Rolex. Wagyu cattle can be consistently raised and bred at a relatively large scale, so how could it be rare? The answer is that Wagyu is the highest caliber of artisan beef, produced in small quantities and closely governed by Japanese guidelines, and it is this exacting process that makes it so exceptional.
Here are some reasons why Wagyu beef is produced in small batches and is therefore relatively hard to find in the U.S.
- It's Expensive and Time-Consuming to Breed - Typically made from the Kuroge (Black) Japanese cow, Wagyu beef is beloved for its high fat content. To achieve this, Japanese farmers must create the perfect stress-free environment for their herds and feed them an expensive, high-energy diet with three meals a day. It takes a Japanese Black cow between two and three years to mature to around 1,500 pounds or 50% fat. Wagyu must be pasture-raised with room to roam to ensure that they don't become stressed and develop tense, tough muscles. Simply put, there are no shortcuts or budget cuts here.
- It Must Meet Rigorous Japanese Grading Standards - Authentic Japanese Wagyu is strictly graded by the Japanese Meat Grading Association. The beef carcasses are graded for yield (the ratio of meat compared to the actual carcass weight) as well as for marbling content, color, fat standard, firmness and texture. The highest quality Wagyu is A5 Wagyu, which must be graded at Grade A for yield and Grade 5 for marbling, fat, color, firmness and texture. This process is rigorous and exclusive to the Japanese, which helps protect the integrity, transparency and authenticity of the meat.
- It is Exclusive to Japan - Unfortunately for Americans who love the elevated experience of a supremely marbled Japanese steak, we have to pay the price of import. Japan has prohibited the export of live cattle and even cattle sperm, making them hard to raise elsewhere. With the exception of a tiny percentage in Australia, all authentic Wagyu beef hails from Japan. The resources involved in shipping a fresh product to the U.S. are high, which can be a limiting factor. However, newer modes of transport and technology are making import much more common.
A Partial Solution: American Wagyu
One solution to the Wagyu scarcity problem is American Wagyu beef, which is a cross between Japanese cattle and American breeds, such as Angus. Though not considered authentic Japanese Wagyu, American Wagyu brings part of the Japanese Wagyu qualities to American beef. Some people even prefer these crossbreed options because they bring the more robust, hearty flavor typical of American beef.
Of course, nothing can replicate the truly unmatched experience of genuine Japanese Wagyu beef, but these American versions can serve as quite a luxurious stand-in when you can't get your hands on the real stuff. Luckily, you can now buy authentic Wagyu online from reliable sources like The Wagyu Shop™, so you can indulge in it all for yourself.