There is some evidence of genetic separation into the Wagyu genetic strain as much as 350 years ago. There were infusions of British and European breeds in the late 1800’s, but the breed was closed to outside genetic infusions in 1910.
The variation of conformation within the Wagyu breed is greater than the variation across British and European breeds. These differences have produced a Japanese national herd which comprises 90% black cattle, the reminder being red.
Wagyu (pronounced ‘wha-gyou’) is a breed of cattle native to Japan and is considered one of Japan’s national treasures. The Japanese word Wagyu can be translated to mean Japanese beef – as “wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means beef.
Some people may be familiar with ‘Kobe beef’, which is world famous for its quality. Kobe beef is simply Wagyu that comes from the Kobe region in Japan.
Characteristically, Wagyu beef is highly marbled. This means that the muscle is finely interspersed with mono-unsaturated fat. This marbling gives the beef its “melt in the mouth” moisture and tenderness. When cooked, the marbling is absorbed into the meat and gives it tenderness and flavour.
How is Wagyu beef different to beef regularly consumed in Australia?
The quality and flavour of Wagyu meat is different from other types of beef commonly eaten in Australia. Some may describe the beef as a smooth caramel / buttery flavour that is intensely sweet and delicate.
This tenderness and flavour results in Wagyu beef being labelled the premium quality grade. Prior to Wagyu entering the Australian market, the Australian grading system was 0 to 6, with the best of the Australian breeds including Angus, averaging about 2. Since the introduction of Wagyu into Australia, the Australian grading system has been increased to 9.
While past public campaigns have educated the Australian public that lean beef is the only healthy beef to eat, the marbling in Wagyu beef has a different story altogether.
The heavy marbling in Wagyu beef, which is described as ‘an intra-muscular deposit of energy’, contains monounsaturated fats or lipids, the “good fat”. Research has shown that the monounsaturated fats in Wagyu can lower the harmful cholesterol levels in the body.
The marbling is also the reason for the unique flavour, texture and moisture of Wagyu beef. The monounsaturated fatty acids (lipids) have a very low melting point (less than 7 degrees Celsius), which means that the beef literally “melts in your mouth”. When Wagyu beef is put onto the hot plate immediately the lipids become liquid and marinate the meat.
Wagyu beef is increasingly being seen in restaurants and gourmet grocers around Australia and is considered a luxury item. It’s price tag of between $100 to $150 per kilogram for the best cuts, ensures the beef will be more of a special occasion meal for many rather that an every day occurrence.
At the same time Wagyu is still in its infancy in Australia and is still to achieve greater awareness with the general public. The Australian market will need to be educated on the attributes of marbling. After many years of the lean beef campaign it will take time to explain the reasons for the marbled appearance of the Wagyu.
The export market for both boxed and live Wagyu cattle is expanding rapidly and Australia’s clean, green and well managed environment makes it a popular choice for international beef markets.
Currently Irongate Wagyu Beef is exporting the majority of its beef. Domestically it is predominantly selling the beef to the restaurant trade and gourmet food suppliers through a local distributor.
A word of caution to consumers, until standards are tightened in Australia, beef can be labelled ‘Wagyu’ with less than 50 percent Wagyu genetics. The premium Wagyu beef should contain 100 percent full blood Wagyu genetics. Consumers should clarify the origin and quality grade of the beef at the point of purchase.
Irongate Wagyu Beef has consistently been achieving some of the best meat grades outside of Japan. Full-blood Wagyu cattle are increasingly being graded 9+, higher than the highest grade in Australia.
Irongate Wagyu Beef’s breeding program is based on tried and proven traditional Japanese farming practices that have been successfully adapted to Australian conditions.
Irongate Wagyu Beef calves are raised on their mothers milk and pasture for the first 15 months, which is the most natural and healthy method, and leaves them free from respiratory problems, disease and antibiotics.
After this time calves are housed in an open sided barn to protect them from the elements and are fed a secret ration for 500-600 days. The ration is free of genetically modified foods, allowing the Wagyu to be produced without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.
It’s this secret ration that has been scientifically developed over the last ten years that gives Irongate Wagyu Beef its unique flavour, which is recognised internationally.
Irongate Wagyu Beef continually aims to produce its product in a naturally and healthy way, which is increasingly important to consumers conscious about their health and the environment.
In Australia, we now have three distinctive different strains of Wagyu Cattle. These are Purebred, Crossbred and Fullblood. It is important that you know what the difference is.
Fullblood – This is the Japanese Black Wagyu that has not had any other breed introduced into their bloodlines. The Australian Wagyu Association defines Fullblood Wagyu as “The offspring of a Wagyu Sire and a Wagyu Dam whose forebears originate from Japan and whose pedigrees show no evidence of any grading up from the base animals”.
Purebred – The purebred Wagyu was developed as a result of the breeding of Fullblood Wagyu bulls with the base cow such as Angus. From this initial mating, called a first cross, the heifer is retained and mated back to a Fullblood or Purebred bull. The progeny of this second mating results in the F2. The progeny from the mating then produces the 3rd cross and so on until four crosses have been made, you then have a Purebred. This animal is recognised in the USA and Australia breeding programmes as Purebred, not Fullblood. A Purebred is not recommended for breeding programmes as the genetics are inferior. It is not recognised at all in Japan (and is called a Crossbred) as it contains inferior genes.
Crossbreed (or F1) – This description is the largest selling style of beef that is produced and sold in Japan. It is the result of a Wagyu genetics (sire) being crossed with another breed (in Japan mainly Angus or Holstein from the dairy industry). The resultant beef must contain 50% Wagyu genetics. This beef is purchased for home consumption or served in family style of restaurants. Crossbred beef is produced in Australia using Wagyu genetics (sire) crossed with Angus or Holstein. Raised and processed correctly these cattle produce a superior product to that of their dams breed.
It is the branding of this beef in Australia as Wagyu that is causing confusion and disappointment to consumers. Crossbreed beef does not have the same eating experience as Fullblood Japanese Wagyu beef. In Japan, farmers are not allowed to use the term Wagyu when marketing crossbreed (F1) beef. Guidelines have recently been instituted to disallow imported Crossbreed (F1) beef using the term Wagyu to stop any any confusion for consumer. Irongate Wagyu Beef would be in favour of similar guidelines being introduced worldwide.
No doubt you have heard of Champagne, that famous wine region in France, and the celebratory beverage that is made there. What you may also be aware of, is that to use the name Champagne, the wine must be made in that highly specified region.
Not so with Beef. As a result, we hear the word Kobe used to describe all types of Wagyu. This is wrong. Kobe is a region within the Hyogo Prefecture, and is undeniably famous for its Wagyu beef. The bloodline is exclusively Tajima. However, only beef from the region Kobe should be called Kobe. Unfortunately, like Brie, Camembert and Cheddar in the cheese world, the name Kobe is not currently protected.