National treasure makes inroads

The American Wagyu Association has a long range plan to advance the Japanese breed and its heavily marbled beef


DENVER, Colo. — The smell of beef cooking on a grill wafting across the National Western Stock Show grounds lured hundreds of the curious to the Wagyu tent.

About 600 plates of beef sliders, brisket and tri tip were offered free of charge to a long line of people wanting a taste. For many, it was the first time they had sampled the unique, heavily marbled beef.

Local chefs Paul and Laurie Fishler cooked the beef and took time to explain to visitors what Wagyu is and how to cook the meat.

“They wanted to know how to get it and how to cook it right,” Fishler said.

He admitted this was the first time they cooked it, so they did some tests beforehand to see how the fat melted and how to cook it to bring out the best flavour with just a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

“It took nine minutes to cook the burgers, and before we finished we had 25 people lined up,” he said.

“We figured we cooked $5,000 to $6,000 worth of beef.”

Wagyu cattle come from Japan and are considered a national treasure. Four arrived in the United States in 1975 and a few more came to North America in the early 1990s.

There are full-blood cattle on the ground that trace back to Japanese origins, along with purebreds that are registered when they are 93.75 percent pure Wagyu. These have been bred up with a cross breeding program.

The cattle may be red or black and when the two are crossed, they are referred to as red blacks.

About 700 members have joined the American Wagyu Association with the largest number found in Texas.

The 30-year-old association has a long range plan to further advance the breed. It offers a breed registry, performance programs, genomic testing, education, culinary events and promotion.

“When people get into the breed they have to understand there is different marketing and a different kind of product,” said association executive director Robert Williams.

The association wants to emphasize carcass quality for beef that can grade beyond the standards for USDA Prime or Choice because of the heavy amount of fat within the muscle.

“We want to stay focused on the carcass traits because that is where they really excel. You don’t want to lose that,” he said.

“If you want more Primes, you get there by using Wagyu genetics.”

Many members finish the cattle on family farms and direct market, while others sell to restaurants.

“There is a lot of interest from other cattlemen. We are starting to see a lot of restaurants serve American Wagyu,” Williams said.

The breed was created in Japan with native cattle and infusions of Brown Swiss, Devon, Ayrshire, Simmental, Shorthorn and Korean cattle. Outside genetic imports were stopped in 1910, and Wagyu became a closed herd.

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