Turning the tables

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:11pm


The latest wagyu marketing campaign seems to have dispensed with one myth about superior Japanese cattle. Unfortunately, two equally stubborn ones remain.

So far there have been no reports that the latest cows exported to Hong Kong have been raised on beer, but the idea is commonly held. The belief persists that the cattle are massaged and listen to music.

Wagyu cattle are descended from Japanese oxen that had some jollies with European cows in the late 19th century, most likely but not necessarily Aberdeen Angus. Perhaps it's the Scottish influence that is supposed to give the cattle a predilection for beer. Apparently you can't walk into a bar in Japan without tripping over a cow on its fourth pint of heavy. Given the price of the end product, it's a wonder the cows aren't chasing it with single malt Scotch.

The more plausible truth, at least a version of it given to me by an Australian wagyu producer, is that the cows get fed a by-product from the brewing process. Wagyu cattle get to live a little longer than other cattle raised for beef, and they spend that time standing in feedlots, eating a high-carb diet and conspicuously not exercising.

The well-known result is prime cuts from the cow that are marbled with spidery veins of fat. Yet the mythologists would still like us to believe that the cows are massaged and listen to music.

Now, let's not call these people liars and say that both of these things happen. It's still worth thinking about how someone might be insulting our intelligence.

I once asked a Japanese farmer if the country's cows are massaged. The polite reply that came through his interpreter was that, well, perhaps a long time ago, if the farmer only had two or three cows to look after, maybe. The facial expression that said 'What a stupid question' needed no translation.

Perhaps this farmer had never been to the farms that massage their cows, though. The question remains: why would you?

One of wagyu's selling points is its tenderness. When you massage a muscle, you work it. Muscles that have worked are not tender. Surely it would be pointless to keep a cow in a feedlot without lots of room to roam so that it got fat and tender and then counteract that by giving it a massage.

Maybe that music they listen to is really relaxing. I'm just dubious that cows actually know what music is. And who is their favourite composer supposed to be? Moo-zart? Captain Beefheart? Perhaps the younger herd are into Justin Beefer.

I'll get my coat.