U.K. ‘wagyu’ cross-breed an affordable favorite

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — “Wagyu” beef has long been the preserve of Britain’s exclusive restaurants and London’s high-end stores, like Harrods.

However, the average bloke in the street will soon be able to have a taste of the prized wagyu thanks to a major supermarket chain that wants to bring luxury foods to everyone.

ASDA, part of the Wal-Mart group, has just started breeding cross Holstein-wagyu cattle for its supermarkets and hopes to start selling the product in early 2011.

Although not pure wagyu meat, which retails for as much as $170 per kg, the meat will have many of the characteristics of wagyu (which literally means Japanese cattle) that make it so appetizing to gourmets.

With wagyu, the fat is more evenly distributed than in other meats and it has a highly marbled appearance. The fine strands of unsaturated fat in the meat melt when it is cooked, giving it a greater depth of flavor than other kinds of beef.

ASDA plans to sell a strip loin of its wagyu-Holstein for $41 per kg, making it affordable for most consumers.

Because the store is producing its own wagyu and does not have to import anything, the store is confident it can keep costs down and reduce the price to the consumer.

“wagyu beef is the best in the world, but until now it has been the preserve of the extremely well to do. We want to make it affordable for the average man in the street,” said Pearce Hughes, the company’s agricultural development manager.

ASDA took semen from two pedigree black wagyu bulls in Britain. Breeders in southern Scotland then inseminated a Holstein cow and a few months later their efforts paid off with the birth of the first wagyu-cross, which they have named Inochi, which means life in Japanese.

The bulls used in the breeding process are the result of implanting Australian full-blood wagyu embryos into cows in Europe. The bulls’ genes are linked to the Kedeka and Fujiyoshi lines.

Following the successful birth, farmers will now inseminate further Holstein cows on a Yorkshire farm and the plan is to produce 2,500 wagyu-Holsteins a year, providing 750 tons of meat.

ASDA has decided to use Holstein dairy cattle in the program rather than other breeds, such as Red Devon and Aberdeen Angus females, partly because the latter two are more valuable for pure breeding than Holsteins.

But Hughes adds, “wagyu-cross-Holstein is deemed as the ultimate cross in Japan because the two breeds lay down marbling in exactly the same way, producing top quality meat superior to wagyu-cross-Angus or Red Devon. It has been known for wagyu-Holstein beef to match the eating quality of purebred wagyu in taste trials.”

The meat will be less fatty than pure wagyu, but bosses at ASDA believe this will appeal to health-conscious Britons.

Pure wagyu have been bred in Wales on a small scale since 2000. Farmer David Wynne Finch imported some embryos of mixed black wagyu and implanted them into some standard cross-bred beef cows. He has a herd of around 30 wagyu.

The wagyu breed has only been exported out of Japan on three occasions.

While the breed is considered indigenous to Japan, DNA testing has shown it was influenced by European breeds brought about through cross-breeding in the early 1900s.

In Japan, it is claimed that farmers massage their wagyu cows to ensure the fat is evenly distributed. They are also fed grain and given beer to stimulate appetite.

However, many Western breeders have cast doubt on these practices and believe the quality of the meat derives from the genetics and nothing else.