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Features 2 minutes 01 November 2017

What Is Tajima Wagyu?

Beefing up your knowledge on all things Wagyu.

beef ingredients Japan

It melts in your mouth like smooth caramel, leaving the silken finish of beef and butter on the tongue. And here in Hong Kong, we sure love our Wagyu. It might surprise you to know that Japan's biggest export market for Wagyu is Hong Kong which bought 353 tons in the first six months of 2017, with the U.S. coming in next with 201 tons. 
Wagyu beef is so richly marbled with fat it appears pink
Wagyu beef is so richly marbled with fat it appears pink
Yet, there’s much confusion when it comes to Wagyu—grades, lineage, prefecture names all make for a perplexing mix. Is there a difference between Kobe beef and Wagyu? Then what is Tajima cattle? Here’s a brief guide to the caviar of beef.

The Origins of Wagyu

This lesson won’t take long. After all, Japanese beef has a history of less than 100 years, having been banned as a food product for much of the country’s feudal era. During this Edo Period, Japan’s isolation from the outside world ensured the purity of its livestock, bred as draught animals for the cultivation of rice.

The Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s lifted the ban on the consumption of beef and in 1919, the government introduced the registration of Japanese cattle and the term ‘Wagyu’ was created.
The most popular breed of Wagyu is the Japanese Black
The most popular breed of Wagyu is the Japanese Black
The Breeds of Wagyu

‘Wagyu’ translates simply as ‘Japanese cattle’. And under this umbrella term are four official Wagyu breeds: the Japanese Black, the Japanese Brown, the Japanese Poll and the Japanese Shorthorn.

The most popular breed of Wagyu is the Japanese Black, accounting for over 90% of the country’s cattle. Within the Japanese Black breed, there are three bloodlines—Tajima, Kedaka and Shimane—and only pure Tajima, bred, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture are certified as Kobe beef. Tajima Wagyu is prized for its ability to develop extremely high degrees of marbling, and each year, only a few thousand cows are certified Kobe, making it exceedingly rare.

In fact, it wasn't until February 2012 that the first Kobe beef shipment was sent outside Japan—to Macau. Even today, less than 10% of it is exported out of Japan.
Wagyu makes for exquisite sushi and sashimi
Wagyu makes for exquisite sushi and sashimi
The Grades of Wagyu

The Japan Meat Grading Association gives each carcass a score based on its yield (A, B or C) and level of marbling, firmness, color and overall quality (1-5), with A5 being the highest possible score.

The marbling in a serving of A5 Kobe is so fine and high that the meat can appear a pastel pink or even white, slightly sweet to taste, and so buttery that it is usually eaten only in small amounts. No American-sized steaks here.
Grilling Wagyu quickly renders the fat and makes it meltingly tender
Grilling Wagyu quickly renders the fat and makes it meltingly tender
Instead, Wagyu is usually sliced and seared or grilled quickly on a hot pan, the fat rendering so quickly you could use a fork to cut the meat. Another delicious way of enjoying Wagyu is sukiyaki or shabu-shabu where the slices of beef are cooking briefly in boiling broth. Purists might even choose of savour the meat’s full natural flavours by eating it raw, sashimi-style.

If you've bought a prime cut of Wagyu steak at the supermarket and want to try cooking it at home, chef Andrea Spagoni of Michelin-starred Beefbar recommends paying attention not to burn the meat as it releases more fat than regular beef. This also means that you can leave out the oil or butter as you grill the meat. While you might tuck into a steak accompanied with a full-bodied red wine, Wagyu is better paired with a lighter wine with less tannins such as Pinot Noir.

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