American diners have been living a lie. Though Kobe Beef has been a staple at high end restaurants and an essential ingredient for celebrity chefs in this country, the beef has never actually been imported to the US until last month. The end of November saw the first shipment of the meat to North America, to the delight of steak connoisseurs in San Francisco, where all 170 kilograms of the meat were delivered.
Kobe beef is not only considered the “champagne of beefs” because of its distinct tenderness and unmatched flavor. Much like the exclusive beverage that can only earn the name champagne if produced in the Champagne region of France, Kobe beef can only be called such if it the beef is raised in Kobe. The Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association has sole authority to grant use of the name.
What sets Kobe beef apart from other high end cuts is the lineage of the cows and the technique in which they are raised. Only cows from the Tajima breed that have been raised in Hyogo prefecture can be certified as Kobe beef. The restricted number of farms causes production to be so small that a mere 3,000 cows are sent to market each year (700-800 tons of beef).
The cows diets are strictly controlled, especially during the final fattening process, and are fed hefty quantities of sake and beer mash. Some cattle even receive massages and have their movement restricted to produce more fat in the beef. The limited supply and amount of labor required to raise these cows translates into a very high market price for even the smallest of cuts.
Instead of Kobe beef, American restaurants have been serving “Wagyu” and advertising it as Kobe beef. This domestically produced product is so similar to Kobe beef that many argue the difference between the two is in name only. Both meats come from Tajima cattle and are raised in similar conditions producing succulent fat marbled beef. Whether restaurants will begin to distinguish the two kinds of beef on their menus remains to be seen, but for American diners desperate to try the real thing, the opportunity to eat Kobe beef is worth the price.