Kobe beef may be the most miss-understood and misused words in the culinary world. As a connoisseur of the industry it is truly annoying to me when I see restaurants or butcher shops mislabel and misbrand products and throw the word KOBE on something. Even large brands are guilty of this... I recently saw a Picanha, very similar to our Wagyu BMS7+ Picanha labeled as "Kobe"... I guess the marketing guys just can't help themselves and be honest with their consumer.
All Kobe beef is Wagyu Beef but not all Wagyu Beef is Kobe beef. Moreover, Kobe is not even the best Wagyu Beef out of Japan.
Lets start with the basics... WAGYU?
Wagyu translates roughly to "Japanese Cow", and the "Wagyu" name applies to 4 specific breeds: Japanese Black (Kuroge), Japanese Brown (In the U.S. referred to as Red Wagyu), Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn.
The Kuroge (Japanese Black) is the breed that has made Japanese Beef famous thanks to its amazing marbling and exquisite, buttery and tender flavor... interestingly, although more fatty it is lower in cholesterol and higher in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids compared to ordinary beef.
However, it is not just about the breed. The average Kuroge cow grades BMS 4-6 which is not too far from USDA Prime.
The differentiating factor of quality wagyu beef is the environment it is raised in. The japanese developed an environment where the gene pool, raising methodology, the soild, the feed and the weather combine to raise animals that grade BMS9-12 and qualify for A5 beef.
This ecosystem is completely unique to Japan, and although many, many farmers around the world have tried to imitate it... they have failed. The organizations and expertise needed to rate and certify the beef correctly in Japan are also leaps and bounds above the rest of the world.
So whats the deal with KOBE?
Like Champagne or Prosseco, Kobe is no more than a denomination of origin. Kobe beef is Wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, raised in Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture according to rules set out by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
There are over 150 beef brands from Kuroge beef. The most famous are Kobe in Hyōgo Prefecture, Matsusaka in Mie Prefecture, and Ohmi beef from Shiga Prefecture. However, the current champion of them all is Miyazaki beef from the Prefecture of Miyazaki.
If you think the Japanese overdo it... you have not been to Miyazaki. Miyazaki prefecture is the only region in Japan that raises cattle by their breeds and biological types.
Every five years, the national “Wagyu Olympics” are held. In September 2017, the Miyazaki-gyu was ranked 1st. for the third time in a consecutive row. This was the first time that the crown was given to the same brand 3 times in a row and therefore rightfully enabled to use the title “Best Wagyu in the World”.
While Kobe might be more famous, Miyazaki has won the first place at the Wagyu-Olympics three consecutive times, therefore rightfully able to proclaim itself as the best Wagyu in the world.
Meat N' Bone sells A5 Wagyu beef from the prefecture of Miyazaki. Considered the best beef in the world.
Is all Wagyu expensive?
If you live in Japan the short answer is "No". Miyazaki, Kobe and most A5 beef is expensive (think USDA Prime). But there is a CAB/USDA Choice for Japanese beef which is A4 that may not qualify for A4 but taste great nonetheless and are far friendlier for the wallet. Wagyu A5 is definitely expensive.
If you live in the US the answer is.. it depends. If you are looking for Real Wagyu A5 beef, it will definitely be expensive. There are very few restaurants or butchers that actually carry A5 beef..
How about American Kobe or Australian Kobe?
Neither American Kobe nor Australian Kobe should exist. There is some excellent beef from cross-bread animals in the US and Australia, that do have excellent domestic Wagyu programs. But there is no A5 beef outside of Japan and the word Kobe should not be used for anything other than beef from the prefecture of Hyōgo.