LONDON – Japanese farmers have exported their first shipment of “wagyu” beef to the European Union after an import ban on beef produced in the country was lifted.
Wagyu are among the most desired breeds because of their intense fat marbling, which makes the meat particularly tender when cooked. A tasting session of the first shipment was recently held in London.
Due to the ban, European consumers were only able to sample wagyu from the United States, Australia or Britain.
But with the lifting of the import ban in February of last year, Japanese exporters are now hoping that Europeans will be able to taste “authentic” wagyu, which they claim tastes better than varieties wagyu raised outside Japan.
A cooperative of Japanese farmers will export wagyu from Gunma Prefecture, eyeing upmarket restaurants and food stores in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Initially, they are hoping to expert a few tons per month to Europe.
Food writers and experts were invited to a London restaurant on Monday to taste the first export shipment of wagyu and to learn about the meat.
Yoshinori Ohara, executive vice president of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (JA Zen-noh), said that in Europe the term wagyu or Kobe beef was being used incorrectly to describe any kind of prestigious beef. He said he is anxious for European consumers to experience the “real wagyu taste” from Japan.
Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef of Zuma restaurant, said, “There is a big difference in the flavor and texture of the wagyu from Japan compared to that currently being sold in Europe. That’s why we are happy to import it from Japan.
Another participant at the tasting event said that buying wagyu bred outside Japan was similar to purchasing a fake Louis Vuitton bag.
Japanese exporters are keen to stress the excellent conditions in which the wagyu cattle are kept. Each animal’s history is logged and traceable. In addition, the industry gives Japanese wagyu a special mark to indicate authenticity.
Japanese wagyu refers to beef derived from one of four breeds, or animals crossbred with them, entirely raised in Japan with traceable ancestry.
The breeds are Japanese black, brown, shorthorn and polled. Beef from these animals is produced under a number of regional brands such as Matsuzaka, Yonezawa and Kobe beef.
Experts claim wagyu has a sweet aroma and is rich in amino acids, which means it imparts a rich savory taste. It also has monounsaturated fatty acids.
Some supermarkets in Britain sell a relatively cheap form of wagyu but it is the result of crossing the wagyu breed with Holstein cattle. Some farmers have also bred wagyu cattle using embryos from the United States, and sold the meat at luxury food stores.
The meat is generally less marbled and fatty than that produced in Japan.
Japan banned beef imports from the EU in 2001 following the mad cow disease epidemic. In February last year, the ban on beef from France and the Netherlands was lifted after Tokyo felt satisfied with the countries’ food safety procedures.
However, the ban remains in place for British beef. Officials are keen to get the necessary approval from Japanese authorities to bring it to an end. The Scottish beef industry in particular is eager to export high-end luxury meat to Japan.