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Lately wagyu beef—you know, the transcendently tender, fatty, umami-rich steak—has become as synonymous with luxury as caviar or black truffles. But no matter how many Michelin-starred menus this delicacy graces, all of the facts about wagyu steak still tend to elude even the most seasoned diners.

“It’s an extremely fascinating but confusing world,” says Joe Heitzeberg, the co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow. Heitzeberg, who admits it wasn’t until he’d spent ample time meeting with Japanese slaughterhouse owners and farmers (his minor in Japanese at the University of Washington helped) that he felt like he truly understood wagyu.

“There’s a lot of information out there that’s not accurate, mostly unintentionally, and perhaps some intentionally,” he says. Because of the prestige associated with wagyu and the premium price it fetches (a pound can easily run in the triple-digits), some people throw around “wagyu” and related terms as a marketing gimmick, even if what the purveyor is selling isn’t that luxury version. So what is wagyu beef—and why does it taste and feel, unlike any other steak you’ve ever had? We’ve gathered some of the foremost experts in the restaurant industry to explain.

And wagyu isn’t an umbrella term for just any Japanese cow. The luxury version of wagyu we all want on our plates refers to a specific breed of Japanese cattle with special genetic qualities. “There are four breeds native to Japan. Of those four breeds, one of the breeds is genetically unique,” Heitzeberg says. “It has a genetic predisposition to create this crazy marbling of fat on inside of muscle tissue. No other livestock does that.” Think of your average piece of steak. Chances are, it’ll have a fat cap on its outside. With wagyu, the cow metabolizes the fat internally, so it’s integrated within the muscle.

Simply put, wagyu means Japanese cow, But the straightforward definition belies a subject riddled with misinformation.

What is Wagyu Beef?

For starters, it’s pronounced wah-gyoo, not wah-goo, a mispronunciation that’s common even among American wagyu farms (and that admittedly tripped up even this intrepid reporter), says Heitzeberg. And wagyu isn’t an umbrella term for just any Japanese cow. The luxury version of wagyu we all want on our plates refers to a specific breed of Japanese cattle with special genetic qualities. “There are four breeds native to Japan. Of those four breeds, one of the breeds is genetically unique,” Heitzeberg says. “It has a genetic predisposition to create this crazy marbling of fat on inside of muscle tissue. No other livestock does that.” Think of your average piece of steak. Chances are, it’ll have a fat cap on its outside. With wagyu, the cow metabolizes the fat internally, so it’s integrated within the muscle. “When I eat too much food it goes to my belly, but when they eat a lot of food and they get fat, that one breed gets it on the inside of the muscle,” Heitzeberg explains. This means any other breed, even raised by an award-winning wagyu cattle farmer in the exact same conditions as wagyu, would not produce wagyu beef.
The result is a rich, luscious cut of beef that practically dissolves once it hits your tongue. “When you have very high-end wagyu, you barely want to cook it. The middle you want to keep as raw as possible. But even if it were cooked medium or medium-well, it would still be juicy,” says Giuseppe Tentori, executive chef of GT Prime in Chicago. “Just slice it super thin so it melts in your mouth.
Source: Robb Report

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