Friday, March 13, 2009

holy cow: the live and times of the wagyu.

a new feature! bet you've been on the edge of your seats for this one, eh?

i thought i'd open up by telling the story of a wagyu cow, the super special breed that results in the famous kobe beef.

once upon a time, in the secluded Hyogo Prefecture of japan, a breed of cow called Wagyu lived happily and peacefully.

(image source:

many, many centuries ago, these cows were primarily used to cultivate rice. during the order of the shogun (from 1635 to 1838), the japanese were prohibited from eating any four-legged animals and the herds of wagyu cattle became closed and secluded. for the most part, this breed has remained closed until this day.

pure wagyu cows are still living a happy and peaceful life in japan, surviving on a diet of grain fodder, sake and beer* and massaged and brushed to keep them beautiful and mellow creatures.

since then, wagyus have done some international travel, coming to america and australia to enjoy their life. the feeding and care practices remain fairly similar to those of their japanese relatives, but the american-raised kobe cows are kind of like their neglected stepchildren. us americans don't believe that the emotional state of the animal makes for better meat, so the massages have gone by the wayside. shouldn't mrs. obama in all of her foodie goodness bring that back? we need more jobs, people! and who wouldn't want to be a cow masseuse? american kobe cattle are often cross-bred with angus cattle, which is why it is often refered to as "kobe-style" instead of just kobe (think: champagne vs. sparkling wine?)

so, does the extreme care that the japanese take change the taste of the beef? or is american (or australian) kobe-style comparable? so many questions.

*why beer, you ask? to help keep cows relaxed and happy? think again. the cows are fed one bottle of beer a day during the cold months of the year to stimulate their appetites. if they are eating normally, no beer for them! makes me wonder, is this an ethical practice? or only steps away from fois gras?

(thanks to the meat man and wikipedia for their assistance in sharing this story.)

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