SYDNEY – Wagyu beef companies from across Japan showcased their products on Monday at a food exhibition celebrating the return of Japanese beef to Australia after 17 years.
Sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization, the Premium Japanese Food Showcase featured nine Japanese beef companies, many of which were eager to explain the differences between the wagyu beef from Japan and so-called “Australian wagyu,” which was developed using semen and embryos, as well as live animals, imported from Japan in the 1990s.
“Personally, I think Australian wagyu is wonderful; it’s of a very high quality,” said Hideki Tabata, 62, of the Omi Beef Export Promotion Cooperative.
“But no matter how high a quality it may be, it’s still a little different to wagyu made in Japan, with all that tradition and such a long history.”
Tabata said the flavor of Japanese wagyu is “completely different” to Australian-raised wagyu and recommended Australians consumers try it for the first time in such Japanese dishes as sukiyaki or shabu-shabu.
“But our ultimate goal is to broaden how wagyu is recognized so it can eventually be used in all kinds Australian cooking, too.”
Australia banned all beef imports from Japan after the discovery of mad cow disease in 2001.
Japanese wagyu beef is recognized as a delicacy around the world for its high marble-scoring, or fat distribution throughout the meat. However, such gourmet quality comes with a high price tag that is so far untested on Australian consumers.
“Are Australians going to accept paying that extra money for (Japanese) wagyu, because it is very expensive,” said NH Foods Ltd. general manager Michael Davidson, 55.
“If you’re looking at cuts of meat that could be up to 300 Australian dollars per kilo, how’s that going to translate over to here? We just have to wait and see how it goes.”
However, Japan’s vice minister for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, Ryosuke Kozuki, said he was confident Australian consumers would be willing to pay top dollar for the product if they had the opportunity to taste the difference.
Phil Waddington, 53, and Karen McLaughlan, 47, — both caterers for consulting firm Ernst & Young — shared Kozuki’s sentiments, saying they look forward to the possibility of including Japanese wagyu on the menu of future business functions.
“Because it’s so rich, you only need to have a little, so I think it lends itself very well to those standing and networking dinner events,” McLaughlan said.
The Premium Japanese Food Showcase also featured 11 Japanese companies specializing in products unrelated to beef such as yuzu pepper and wasabi condiments.
Australia is currently the ninth-ranked export destination for Japanese agricultural, forestry and fishery products.