People tend to think that Wagyu is native to Japan, but according to Wikipedia, it is “a group of cattle breeds created by crossing native Japanese cattle from before the Meiji era with cattle breeds from outside Japan. In other words, from the point of view of the traditional cattle, Wagyu is also a crossbreed.
Specifically, Wagyu cattle can be divided into four types: black, brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese polled . Even if the cattle are raised in Japan, if they are not of these four types, they cannot be called Wagyu and are called domestic cattle.
The Japanese Black Cattle breed seems to account for nearly 90% of the total. The Japanese Black is a breed that tends to accumulate fat in the muscles when fattened, resulting in so-called “marbling,” and this is why this breed is mainly produced. Since marbled meat is easy to differentiate from foreign beef, the tendency to use the Japanese black breed for raising Wagyu is becoming stronger and stronger.
In recent years, the technology of production farmers has been improving, and most of the meat shipped out is A5 rank. On the other hand, I have heard that A3 rank is less common. There were worries that domestic agriculture would be in trouble if cheap beef from the U.S. and Australia was imported, but it can be said that the domestic market is taking the form of a high-class line.
97% of Wagyu cattle are of the Kuroge Japanese breed
In the past, cattle were not eaten in Japan, but were used for farming. At that time, there was a lot of breeding going on to make cattle suitable for farming.
However, after the Meiji era (1868-1912), the culture of eating beef took root in Japan, and this led to the breeding of cattle for food. As a result of this breeding, “Japanese Black,” “Japanese Brown,” “Japanese Shorthorn,” and “Japanese polled” cattle came to be bred as Wagyu.
Of these, 97% of the Wagyu cattle currently on the market are of the Kuroge Japanese breed. Among the four types of Wagyu, the Japanese Black is raised all over Japan because of its superior meat quality and sassiness.
Most of the Japanese Black cattle are descendants of a single cow born about 80 years ago. Because of its superior meat quality, its genes were passed on as a sire, and its descendants are now being raised on farms all over Japan.
Where Wagyu beef is raised
If you look up the characteristics of brand-name cattle in various regions on the Internet, you will find that the quality of the cattle is expressed in various ways. Perhaps the climate of the region where the cattle are raised or the feed generally used in that region may have some characteristics in the quality of the meat, but I don’t think there would be much difference if it were the same breed.
More importantly, even if it is the same place of origin and the same brand of cattle, the characteristics of the beef will change depending on the farmer. In order to raise cattle with better meat quality, each farm makes various efforts, such as which feed should be fed at what time and which classical music should be played. Naturally, even in the same region, it is not surprising that there is a difference in meat quality between farmers who take such measures and those who do nothing.
Even if they are from different regions, there are certain established methods for raising cattle of better quality, so I think it is unlikely that there will be significant differences depending on the region.
In general, cattle are sold with the name of the place of production in the foreground, such as “A cattle” or “B cattle,” so consumers tend to think that there is some kind of difference between each place of production. In the case of industrial products, it is easy to show the characteristics of each manufacturer, but in the case of wagyu beef, the difference in production area is insignificant, at least to the average consumer, because Japanese black beef is still Japanese black beef.
Some of my clients worry that I have never handled beef from anywhere, but I don’t think they need to worry too much about the differences in production areas.
When I first started in this industry, I once asked one of my seniors in the meat industry about the differences in production areas. He said, “I think there are only a few people in this industry who can point out the differences in production areas. It seems that it is not a problem that ordinary people have to worry about.
Beef grade is not a ranking of taste
When A5-ranked Wagyu beef is introduced on TV or in magazines, we tend to think that the meat must be very tasty. It is true that A4 or A5 meat is delicious, but this grade itself is not a rank of deliciousness.
This grade is a standard established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to objectively judge the quality of Wagyu beef for trading purposes. Therefore, it does not mean that A5 is good because it is tasty, and A4 because it is a little less tasty.
First of all, the A in A5 is a yield grade, where the ratio of meat to carcass weight is A if it is higher than standard, B if it is standard, and C if it is lower than standard.
If all four items are rated 5, the meat is graded 5, but if any item is rated 4 or lower, the meat is graded the lowest.
In other words, if the yield (meatiness) is higher than the standard and the meat quality is all rated 5, the meat is graded A5. On the other hand, if the quality of the meat is very good, but the yield is standard, it is graded B5.
Also, depending on the cuisine and taste of the person eating the meat, a meat with less sashi may be preferred, so it cannot be said that A5 is generally superior. (A5 is more expensive, though.)