BRUSSELS (Kyodo) Gravenvoeren is a small Belgian village on the Netherlands border where in the middle of the green hills, 50 “wagyu” Japanese cows enjoy the view and the grass.
In a short time, Japanese beef has become a main attraction in top restaurants in London and New York.
“We have the space so why not use it in a useful way?” asked Wim Claessen of Chateau Altembrouck.
The castle to which the farm belongs has been completely renovated in the original style by Claessen, a former businessman who is now director of the local television station.
“I was looking for something new, something with added value — and found that in the wagyu cow,” he said.
Claessen remembers his first steps into the world of the famous Kobe beef.
He managed to import wagyu cattle to Europe via the United States in 1996. The animals were the descendants of cows exported to the U.S. directly from Japan some 20 years earlier.
Claessen, from the Netherlands, decided to start a breeding program in Belgium. He bought some wagyu cows in Arizona and started his own farm around his house.
“People in Europe and the U.S. have the false idea that the quality of meat is shown by the degree of redness. The redder the meat the better, they seem to think, whereas the taste of the meat largely depends on the fat it contains,” Claessen said.
Butcher Fred de Leeuw said, “Japanese customers were moved to tears when they first saw the wagyu meat in our shop.”
De Leeuw introduced wagyu beef some 10 years ago. His shop in Amsterdam is generally considered to be the best in the country.
He said: “I imported it from Omaha (Neb.), as I was always searching for the best of the best. We were at the same time looking for an alternative at a period of decrease of meat consumption because of mad cow disease.
“Here in Amsterdam we are lucky to have an international public who are happy to discover new dishes.”
Restaurants with Michelin stars in the Netherlands serve wagyu, as does the famous Yamazato restaurant at the Japanese Okura hotel in Amsterdam.
Its chef, Akira Oshima, was asked to prepare the first European-bred wagyu.
“As we want to keep on renewing, and give some company to the cows, we are planning to import the ‘kurobuta’ (black pig) as well,” Claessen said. “The black pigs are not yet known in Europe, and we’d like to change that.”
Claessen plans to introduce wagyu to Germany and France.
“Quality for me remains more important than quantity. And our cows can be compared to wine of high quality; you have to savor it with care,” he said.
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