AN INTRODUCTION TO JAPANESE WAGYU
Like fine wines, the flavors and legendary intramuscular fat structures of Japanese Wagyu vary noticeably, not just from region to region (known as prefectures), but from farm to farm based on genetics, feeding protocols, and husbandry. Holy Grail’s expertly curated portfolio of Wagyu is the most comprehensive assortment in the world, tracing the expression of Wagyu from the cold northern climes of Hokkaido to the sub-tropical beauty of Kyushu.
The largest producing regions for Japanese Wagyu are Kagoshima, Miyazaki, and Hokkaido, and they are run by prefectural entities that control the whole process with farmers on a co-op type basis. Holy Grail purchases from these entities specific programs that separate out the best-of-the-best of these large breeding operations which produce high quality yet very consistent beef. Other smaller producing prefectures have created similar high end programs that take the best cattle and feed them out on various unique feeding protocols. Some examples with whom Holy Grail has partnered are Sanuki Olive Beef where the cattle are finished on olives, Sendai where the cattle finish on locally grown rice stalks, and Gifu prefecture where the HidaGyu program is based off of the offspring of the legendary bull Yasafuku.
AN INTRODUCTION TO GRADING
Japanese beef is graded on two scales, representing the quality of meat. One scale rates the beef from A-C representing how much Wagyu can be harvested from the cattle, with A being the highest score. Once the yield rating has been measured, the wagyu is then given a number rating from 1-5 that represents the firmness and texture. The highest score Wagyu can receive on this scale is A5. Another scale measures the level of intramuscular fat present in the beef on a BMS (Beef Marbling Scale) from 1-12 with 12 being the highest level of fat present. To receive a BMS rating of 12, the beef must present at least 56.3% intramuscular fat, making it a masterpiece of marbling and flavor (remember: fat = flavor in beef).
Pro tip: Japanese beef connoisseurs begin their assessment with three benchmark flavor components and expand from there:
- Amasa (甘さ / sweetness)
- Kaori (香り / fragrance)
- Yawarasaka (柔らかさ / tenderness)
Like the cooler climes of top grape producing regions for wine, the cold northern climate of Hokkaido features weather and soil extremes that create challenging growing conditions and extremely high quality local forages for meat. Tokachi Farm is located on the Daisetsu plain in the shadow of the still active volcano, Mount Tokachi. The poor soils here produce small but intense grasses that produce some of Japan's best dairy and beef cattle.
The cattle at the legendary Chateau Uenae’s Hokkaido Snow Beef are raised in seasonal extremes inspiring more delicately marbled beef finished on Hokkaido’s famous sweet corn resulting in a gloriously juicy eating experience.
Next to Hokkaido, Sendai beef is one of the northernmost situated beef producers in Japan and home to the Wagyu Olympics. Here cattle feast on the once legendary and now recently revived Sasanishiki rice stalks along with barley grain to create a robust flavor and resulting in ridiculous marbling. A5-grade Sendai beef is the only beef in Japan that requires a BMS10+ score to qualify as Sendai Beef. Making up less than .05% of Japanese production, it is extremely rare.
“Miyazakigyu,” the highest quality designation from the Miyazaki Prefecture, is the ultimate luxury in beef. Every five years, The Japanese Wagyu Olympics ranks the most pampered cows on Earth. Miyazakigyu is a consecutive two-time Champion (2007, 2012) and a three-time consecutive winner (2007, 2012, & 2017) of the Prime Minister award—the category for best flavor.
Like Kobe, Miyazakigyu must be graded A4 or above with a BMS of seven or higher. Miyazaki is one of four prefectures on Kyushu, a subtropical island near the southern tip of Japan. Wagyu from Miyazaki is famous for its cherry-red coloring and density of marbling.
Raised for 30 months by ranchers with a special zeal for husbandry, Kyushu steers feed on wheat, rice, corn, and barley. This wholesome diet promotes “shimofuri,” the highest quality of fat marbling. The end result is a steak with such complexity, richness, and depth of flavor, even the most jaded Wagyu aficionados will pause with reverence.
Hida Beef, also known as Hida-gyu is a rare Japanese wagyu breed whose production is even smaller than that of Kobe Beef. The creation of the Hida Beef brand centers around the legendary Japanese bull, Yasufuku. Born in Kobe and brought to Hida in 1981, Yasafuku was quickly sought after for passing down prodigious yet delicately-laced marbling. The foundation of modern Hida-gyu, Kenichi Ono's speculates in his treatise Outstanding Wagyu of Japan, Yasafuku was perhaps "the greatest of all Wagyu".
The Cattle of the Lake the Omi Beef brand is the oldest in Japan, with a history that dates back more than 400 years when it was routinely served by the Shogun to his warlords and came to be known as the "Emperors Beef". The "Holy Trinity" of Omi, Kobe and Matsusaka Beef has long been considered by Wagyu connoisseurs as Japan's best wagyu beef producers. In fact, during the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when it finally became legal to actually consume beef again in Japan, much of what shipped as Kobe beef was actually Omi Beef.
Also similar to Kobe is the absolutely pristine environment in which these cattle are raised. They roam by the shores of the largest freshwater lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, also known as the Mother Lake, into which 400 rivers flow. Additionally, in the area surrounding the lake, some of the best rice in Japan is grown (rice straw is a critical component of the Wagyu diet), the vast majority of which is farmed organically. Its critical importance to the city of Kyoto ensures that the Shiga Prefecture has the tightest environmental restrictions in the country; this an ideal place to raise cattle.
The rarest of the rare Japanese Wagyu comes from the Kagoshima prefecture. Cattle here have the advantage of sufficient sun and natural surroundings that defines the taste of Kagoshima Wagyu. Many will describe it as full-bodied and buttery with the right amount of marbling.
Winner of the 2017 "Wagyu Olympics", Kagoshima Prefecture is located on Japan's southern island, Kyushu. Our Wagyu is sourced from Nozaki Farm coop where decades of breeding has produced a herd that delivers 70% A5 grade Wagyu, an unparalleled level of quality and consistency that has made Kagoshima the largest producing prefecture in Japan.
Named after the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, this remote region’s isolated genetics allowed for the development of what is known today as the Tajima line, a very pure genetic breed of cattle whose DNA has been sought after and spread to other cattle throughout Japan but which remains unadulterated in the Kobe region, and its purity is jealously guarded by the small farmers that comprise the Kobe association. Kobe Beef is extremely rare with under 1,000 head a year exported for the entire globe. Literally the cream of the crop, Kobe Beef is limited to only the top cattle of the Hyogo Prefecture, limited to A4 and A5-grade only.
Maezawa Beef from Ogata farms represents the highest quality of beef from Japan and dining on Wagyu from this farm is considered a rarity. Ogata farm has worked hard over generations to earn their reputation as a top quality beef producer in Japan. In order to be considered Maezawa beef, the farm has to implement strict quality controls, including a stress-free environment for the cattle, which results in a beef that is smooth and tender in texture. No hormones are ever used on these cattle. Additionally, Ogata farm feeds their cattle a diet of beer lees, made from local beer, whiskey, and soy, which is not only high in nutrients, but also adds a faint sweetness to the beef. The environment for the cattle is of the highest quality, including a process which allows the herd to sleep uninterrupted, or “sleep in peace.”
HitachiGyu are treated with the greatest care and concern. Bloodlines are tracked with careful documentation, living conditions include spacious, well-ventilated barns, and diets consist of locally-grown feed free of antibiotics.
HitachiGyu is special here at Holy Grail because our partnership with this program has started our first ever Nose to Tail Program, where every part of the cow is used to reduce waste. We are able to offer unique cuts of this highly sought after beef, and we couldn’t be happier with the result.