Whenever we talk about Japanese gastronomy, we think of Kobe beef, a meat renowned as the best in the world, but also one at the highest prices. We also hear about beef Wagyû or Tajima beef. The uninitiated get lost in all these terms which as you will see do not refer to the same thing. In this article we will explain all these differences to you and thus be able to recognize Kobe beef.
The history of the Bœuf de Kôbe label
The appellation Bœuf de Kôbe appeared in 1983 in Japan. It was set up by the association for the distribution and promotion of Kôbe beef. That same year, this group defined strict criteria to be met for a beef Wagyû may be called Kobe beef. The equivalent of our PDO (protected designation of origin).
Kôbe beef: meat from controlled production
Why is Kobe beef so expensive?
For an ox Wagyû can claim the supreme title of Kobe beef, it must first come from a Tajima cow. Tajima is a region in the department (prefecture) of Hyôgo, north-west of Kôbe, therefore an animal originating exclusively from Japan. To make sure that the animal is of this species, The association for the distribution and promotion of Kôbe beef keeps a register of approved farms.
This was only the first step, there are still several left. The breeders take care of the cows by staying in the prefecture between 28 and 32 months for meat with optimal fat content.
In addition to an accentuated control around the genetic lineage of the animals, the breeders take great care of their cattle. Fed with first quality cereals such as rice, millet with permanent access to fresh and pure water, the animals are even pampered with massages. All the conditions are met for the muscles of the animal to take on a quality fat that will make the meat tender as possible. Finally, the beef must always be slaughtered in Hyôgo prefecture.
The exam to become a Kobe beef
Next comes the examination of the meat to certify it as Kobe beef. Just before going into the details of the meat, the carcass is weighed. Its weight must be understood between 270 and 499kg for a cow, and between 300 and 499kg for a steer.
First, the general performance of the carcass is studied, after which it is assigned a grade between A, B and C. Kôbe beef must have a score of A or B is a very good return. Secondly, it is the very quality of the meat that is scrutinized. The evaluation criteria are the level of fat and its distribution in the muscle, texture, smell and color. At the end of this process the piece examined is rated from 1 to 5, with 1 being poor quality meat and 5 being higher quality. To get the Holy Grail of the appellation, the beef Wagyû must obtain a minimum score of 4.
The beouf de Kôbe is certified after a long and meticulous process. But where can you buy Kobe beef? To recognize it you don’t have to be an expert. All pieces of meat are marked with a chrysanthemum-shaped seal and all authorized dealers have a small bronze statuette with the effigy of a cow. It is the requirement throughout the production chain that drives up the price per kilo. Currently 1 kilo of Kobe beef is worth around € 370. It takes at least 50 euros per person in Japan to be able to taste 150 grams in restaurants.