You are at the members-only Wagyumafia The Butcher’s Kitchen, a progressive Wagyu and Kobe beef omakase restaurant in Roppongi, Tokyo, and you are tackling a thin slice of 145-day dry-aged Kobe beef steak. Perceived to be one of the world’s priciest cuts of beef, cutting through the Kobe steak is as easy as slicing through butter. Just as you are savouring its rich aroma and subtle sweetness, you gaze at the chunk of beautifully mottled meat on display and wonder exactly what Kobe beef is and why it is so expensive. In Japan, Kobe beef retails for an eye-watering 35,000 yen to 43,000 yen (US$321 to US$395) a kilogram for the rib-eye cut. It is to the Wagyu industry what Dom Perignon is to champagne. An omakase meat fest at Marble Kappo in Causeway Bay “Kobe beef is the only Wagyu brand in Japan where the Hyogo Prefecture gets involved in protecting the genetic integrity of the Tajima herd,” says Hisato Hamada, co-founder of the Wagyumafia group of restaurants that serve seven head of Kobe beef a month. “This goes right down to determining the bevy of yearly-changing 12 ‘super father’ Tajima bulls whose sperms are used to artificially inseminate the female Tajima cows to preserve the genetic traits of this bloodline.” Scoff if you will at its eye-watering price, Wagyu is one of Japan’s best-known food exports and Kobe beef arguably its most internationally recognised brand. Translated as “Japanese cow” (wa means Japanese and gyu means cow), Wagyu is often loosely used to refer to beef in Japanese. Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says that Wagyu refers exclusively to four specific Japanese purebred cattle – Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled, Japanese Brown and Japanese Black. In Japan, the Japanese Black accounts for more than 90 per cent of all cattle, a direct result of purposeful farming of highly marbled Wagyu. Within the Japanese Black breed, there are three primary bloodlines: Tajima, Kedaka and Shimane. Generally small-framed with a slower growth rate, Tajima cattle is prized for its superior meat and high quality marbling and only this pure-blood pedigree bred, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture is eligible to be certified as Kobe beef. High steaks at 298 Nikuya Room in Central Think of it as an honorary title bestowed on Tajima cattle at the point of slaughtering when it meets stringent criteria – considered the strictest among Japan’s top Wagyu brands – laid out by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association as follows: 1. Must be a Tajima cattle 2. Must be a heifer or bullock 3. Must be raised by certified farmers 4. Must be born, raised and slaughtered, and with the entire procedure handled in Hyogo Prefecture 5. Must have yield grade (proportion of meat in a cow that can be consumed) of A or B 6. Must have quality grade (marbling, colour, fineness of muscle, fibre and fat) of more than 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 7. Beef marbling score of between 6 and 12 on a marbling scale of 1 to 12 8. Carcass weight must be from 270kg to 499.9kg (595lb to 1,102lb) for a cow, 300kg to 499.9kg for a bull “There are more than 200 Tajima farmers in the Hyogo Prefecture producing about 6,000 head of Tajima cattle every year,” says Hamada. “Only 3,000 head of them make the cut as Kobe beef each year.” Hamada says, Tajima beef and Kobe beef are the only two Wagyu brands that are registered geographical indication (GI). The quality of products registered with the GI protection system is guaranteed by the Japanese government. Carcasses that meet the criteria are stamped with a chrysanthemum seal called “Nojigiku-han” and, like all cattle, assigned a 10-digit identification number so that authenticity can be traced back to the cow it comes from. Yakiniku: Wagyu beef eateries for the meat lovers To understand the marbling of Kobe beef, one needs to first understand the marbling of Wagyu in general. In “The Japanese Wagyu beef industry: current situation and future prospects” published in the Asian-Australian Journal of Animal Sciences, the authors suggest that intramuscular fat – or marbling – is “one of the most important factors determining meat quality, especially texture and flavour”. The Japanese Black, it says, “is genetically predisposed to producing carcass lipids containing higher concentrations of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) than Holstein, Japanese Brown and Charolais cattle.” Beef from purebred Wagyu cattle raised in Japan, it is concluded, is therefore rich in MUFAs. In another study “Characteristics and health benefit of highly marbled Wagyu and Hanwoo”, published in the Korean Journal for food science of animal resources, highly marbled Wagyu is reported to have “a higher percentage of MUFA within fat compared with other breeds”, with oleic acid concentrations in the subcutaneous adipose tissues reported at 52.9 per cent. This compares to 47.3 per cent. for Hanwoo, 39.8 per cent for Australian crossbreed, 39.8 per cent for cornfed Angus and 34.6 per cent for hay-fed Angus. A higher percentage of MUFA, it says, “will lead to a lower fat-melting point which contributes to the softness of beef fat and favourable beef flavour.” MUFAs are a heart-healthy dietary fat because they lower LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol. Picky Eaters: what can a vegan eat at meat grill Yakiniku Jumbo? Wagyu cattle, the review says, are genetically disposed to produce more oleic acid, with “very high heritability reported for oleic acid in Wagyu cattle.” According to the journal, production conditions are known to affect the concentration of oleic acid in Wagyu. Hence, “higher levels of concentrated feed in the later fattening period can lead to higher MUFA concentration in the subcutaneous adipose tissues of Wagyu steer.” View this post on Instagram Supreme grade of Masami Ribeye!! @masamiranch The steak every meat lover agrees in one thing.That is AMAZING! #masamibeef#wagyu#steak#bbq#knife#knifemaking#knifecollection#instafood#americanwagyu#california#oregon#masamifoods#osaka#miyazaki#丸正グループ#リブアイ#ステーキ#アン黒#モデル#アメリカ#挑戦 A post shared by Seiya Uezu (@seilee9) on Nov 13, 2019 at 9:20pm PST Given the importance of feed to marbling in Wagyu, it’s no wonder that urban legends have sprung up about the things Kobe beef farmers supposedly do to stimulate the appetite of cattle. Citings include farmers providing massages to the cattle to relax them, feeding them beer for their appetite and playing classical music as a relaxation technique during feeding. “It is not 100 per cent true that Kobe beef cattle are fed beer or receive massages,” Hamada says during a visit to a pristine Tajima farm by farmer, Kazuyoshi Morimoto, in Sayo, Hyogo Prefecture, during the inaugural Kobe Beef Summit “Farmers like Morimoto provide a clean environment for the Tajima cattle and tend to coddle the herd with lots of care and love,” he says, adding that “their success rate for achieving the Kobe beef certification is very high.” While genetics play a crucial role, Hamada contends that a farmer’s skill set in caring for the Tajima cattle is of the utmost importance because Tajima cattle are known to be the “toughest pedigree to farm”. View this post on Instagram A post shared by 焼肉とビール 市場小路 (@ichibacoji_karasuma) on Nov 13, 2019 at 9:04pm PST Like many of the Wagyu brands available in Japan, Kobe Wagyu is reddish-pink in its raw state, with evenly distributed intramuscular fat marbling. The Japanese describes this intense marbling as “shimofuri”, and it is believed that high levels of such marbling in beef enhances the taste and tenderness of the meat, with health benefits for the heart too. “On the palate, Kobe beef has fat that is super light with a hint of acidity that morphs into umami,” says Hamada. “Visually you discern it from other Wagyu by its burgundy, almost kidney beanlike, colour.” Given its high fat content, the Kobe beef is usually thinly sliced and served yakiniku or shabu-shabu style in Japanese eateries. But at Wagyumafia The Butcher’s Kitchen, Hamada explores unchartered territories with the prized meat in his omakase menu, which is priced from 30,000 yen a head. Why plant-based fast food isn’t any healthier than eating meat You could well eat it as a gyoza; drink it as Kobe beef tail broth with Ozaki beef jerky; have it raw as sashimi of heart, outside skirt and chateaubriand; savour it as sushi with a slice of raw Kobe beef layered over a parcel of rice topped with a tongue of uni and pearls of caviar; and, of course, have it deep-fried as a katsu and stacked with toast as “Wagyu katsu sando”. The latter Kobe beef chateaubriand cutlet sandwich is available at Wagyumafia The Butcher’s Kitchen as an add-on for 20,000 yen a serving. During the Kobe Beef Summit finale dinner, participating chefs from outside Japan showed us even more ingenious ways with the Kobe beef. Tomos Parry of Brat Restaurant, London, barbecued the belly of the beef with hay from the Kobe Beef farm and served it skewered with green sauce. Richie Lin of MUME, Taipei, rendered the fat of the dry-aged Kobe beef and served it as a dessert with milk ice cream, fresh figs, beef fat caramel and herb oil. Richard Ekkebus of Amber, Hong Kong, chose to cook his 147-day dry-aged, beef fat-brushed Kobe beef strip loin simply – grilled in the Josper oven with a riveting steak sauce prepped with more than 30 ingredients. In the hands of the right chefs, the world, it seems, is Kobe beef’s oyster. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .