The current popularity of Wagyu beef around the world has drawn attention to Japan’s traditions of producing distinctive meat from local breeds of cattle. “Wagyu” means simply “Japanese cow” and the term refers to a group of four breeds: black, brown-red, shorthorn and polled.
What makes the meat from these breeds so flavorful and well-marbled is the cows are bred for 30 months or longer — as opposed to an average of 22 months for cattle in North America — and they lead chiefly sedentary lives. All Japanese beef is graded according to its color, texture, marbling and overall quality. This scale runs from 1-5, with 5 being the highest level. Every side of beef is also graded A, B or C, so the highest grade of Wagyu beef is A-5. Wagyu beef types are named after the region in which they’re produced, with the three finest varieties — Kobe, Matsusaka and Ohmi — referring to specific locations. A good choice for those preferring leaner meat is Kumamoto Wagyu, which is often on the menu at Beige, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Chanel boutique on Ginza, Tokyo.