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Japan Cow

The content below is from Season 2, Episode 32 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • Wilfred
    • Wilfred started out as a dark comedy short film from Australia back in 2002. But later in 2011 would be adapted as a television series starring Jason Gant (who also played the original Wilfred) and Elijah Wood.
    • The show came out when I was in high school. The premise is a severely depressed lawyer name Ryan (played by Elijah Wood) goes through a existential crisis. At that very moment his doorbell rings. Ryan opens his door to see a 6 foot tall Australian guy in a cheap dog costume named Wilfred (played by Jason Gant) standing on his door step.
    • Ryan soon finds out that everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual dog. Ryan is the only one who sees Wilfred as a dude and can understand him.
      • Yeah, Wilfred speaks English with and Australian accent. He even drinks beer and does recreational drugs.
    • The show is still a dark comedy like it’s short film predecessor, but the show adds a psychological element. You find out more about Ryan and his tragic life. You will laugh hysterically as you watch the show, but you will also find out more about the human condition along the way.
    • When Wilfred aired in 2011 I was in High School and I only appreciated it for it’s comedic value, which is pretty good. But when I came back to the show while I was studying to get my Masters I realized how deep the show really is.
      • Wilfred is one of my favorite shows of all time. It helped me understand myself a little bit during a time in my life when that seemed really hard to do.
      • I strongly suggest you give it a go. It is currently on Hulu.
  • Just please keep in mind that the show Wilfred is only meant for adults… not for children.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT!

  • Meat tastes amazing.
    • It isn’t always the healthiest choice. There are other ways to get a good source of protein and fat that are more healthy.
      • But meat is pretty fantastic tasting.
    • Morally speaking, meat is probably the worst common food in existence. It requires the death of a living breathing animal.
      • However, biting in to a quality hunk of meat is one of the most satisfying experience one can have… because it is so tasty.
    • When it comes to economics, meat doesn’t fair much better than the other categories I just mentioned. The world is experiencing it’s worst water crisis in recent history with shortages affecting more than 3 billion people around the world. The amount of fresh water available for each person has plunged by a fifth over two decades. And most meats are at the top of the list of how much water is necessary to create. For example, It takes approximately 1,847 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef — that’s enough water to fill 39 bathtubs all the way to the top.
      • With all that in mind, please note that the taste of meat is phenomenal.
  • What’s the point I’m trying to make here? No, don’t worry, this isn’t an episode about how you shouldn’t eat meat. I myself love meat.
    • I just wanted to present the many arguments against meat production and consumption before I do an entire episode on a meat product.
    • Because they are there, they do make great points, perhaps our world would be better if we all became vegetarians… then again… meat tastes great.
    • And this episode is about perhaps the greatest tasting meat to have ever existed: Wagyu Beef.
    • The term Wagyu is from Japan.
    • It translates to “Japanese Cow”
  • So Wagyu isn’t a specific cut of beef, nor is it a certain way to prepare the beef.
    • Wagyu refers to the breeds of cows that are from the Island Nation of Japan.
  • The roots of Wagyu’s superiority can be traced to the late 1800s. During the 1880s, several breeds of European cattle were introduced to Japan and crossbred with native Japanese breeds. The four strains of cattle that resulted dominate the Japanese beef trade to this day.
    • When Japan opened up to international markets for beef production in 1991, their local farmers began to worry.
    • While places like America, Argentina, and Australia have tons open pastures to grow HUGE quantities of beef, Japan has little land. What land Japan does have is mostly made up of rocks or cities.
    • So the Japanese agriculture industry decided they wouldn’t try to compete with the international market with quantity. No, they decided they would compete with quality.
      • Instead of marketing their beef the same way as other markets, Japan markets their beef as a luxury good, only to be eaten in small quantities.
      • When we think beef here in the States we think of a big juicy steak or burger as the central component of the dish. But in Japan they eat their beef in small bits. The beef compliments Japanese dishes instead of being the largest and most important portion on the plate.
    • When Japan did finally open up their beef industry to international markets the world was shocked. The result of the European cows from the 1880s carefully being bred with native breeds were cows that yielded meat with ridiculously high fat marbling.
      • Marbling is the white flecks of intramuscular fat in meat, most notably red meat. The fat in lean muscle creates a marble pattern—hence the name.
      • Wagyu (or Japanese cows) were bred to have intramuscular fat on levels that had never been seen before outside of Japan. I mean the meat from Japanese cows almost looks like bacon.
    • Although they did open up to international beef markets in 1991, Japan still enforces strict regulation on the production of its beef. This is what has kept Wagyu beef at such a high level demand.
  • There are 4 different breeds of Japanese Cow (above)
    • Only the Kuroge and Akage (Japanese Black and Japanese Brown) breeds can be found outside of Japan.
      • The Nihon Tankaku and Mukaku breeds (Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled) are forbidden to be bread outside of Japanese borders.
    • The most popular breed of Wagyu is the Kuroge breed (also known as Japanese Black).
      • These entirely black cattle are the most popular breed of Wagyu. They are raised throughout Japan.
        • Although there are 4 different kinds of Wagyu breeds, when someone is talking about Wagyu, they are almost always talking about the Japanese Black breed as they make up 90% of Japans cattle.
      • Japanese Black have the strongest genetic predisposition to the quality Wagyu is renowned for – intense marbling. Within the Japanese Black Strain, there are different bloodlines, each with their own specific traits. The three primary Japanese Black bloodlines include:
  • 1. Tajima [Tah•ji•ma] also referred to as Tajiri
    • Tajima are the marbling Wagyu. Even within the Japanese Black breed, this specific bloodline is the one known best to produce the highest percentage and best quality marbling. They are generally smaller framed, have slower growth rates, and expected to yield superior meat. 
    • Tajima originally hail from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and are responsible for the best beef in the world. All beef that is eligible to be certified as Kobe is pure Tajima, bred, raised, and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture. Historically and today, Tajima are highly regarded for Fullblood breeding in Japan and abroad. 
Hyogo Prefecture
  • 2. Shimane [Shi•mah•nee] also referred to as Fujiyoshi
    • Originating from the Shimane Prefecture of Japan, these cattle are known for large frames, medium growth, very strong maternal capabilities, and average meat quality. Their offspring tend to exhibit a large body size, however their marbling is generally less refined than Tajima. 
Shimane Prefecture
  • 3. Kedaka [Keh•dah•kah] also referred to as Tottori
    • The Kedaka line originates from the Tottori Prefecture of Japan and, similar to Shimane, are known for their larger frames but with a higher meat quality. They also tend to have a good growth rate and high levels of fertility.
  • These Japanese Black bloodlines can be crossbred to impart diversity into herds. For example, breeding Tajima (or high Tajima bulls) with Kedaka or Shimane cows, has the potential to produce offspring that have the dense, delicate marbling of a Tajima with the larger size, faster growth rates, and stronger maternal instincts of a Kedaka or Shimane. In fact, Kedaka are often considered to play a critical role in Japanese Fullblood Wagyu production.
  • It may seem strange to most people that this much attention is paid to tracking breeds, bloodlines, and every attribute of each. These farmers are meticulous.
    • but Keeping track of breed and bloodline activities and attributes is important to Wagyu farmers as it is with most domesticated animal industries
    • For example, the bloodline of race horses is also carefully analyzed and documented.
  • Wagyu cows are raised by specialty breeders until they are between seven and 10 months old, when they are sold to a farmer along with a birth certificate certifying their pure bloodline. These animals cost farmers as much as $30,000 each, which is as much as 10 times more than the typical American Angus! 
    • After auction, the cows are taken to feeding farms where they’re given names. Wagyu farmers take great pride in providing a humane life for their cows, and they are given plenty of room in their pens. They often share a pen with only four or five other cows, whereas mass operations tend to keep dozens of cows in a single pen.
    • Only pregnant cows and breeding cattle are allowed to graze in the pasture. The cattle designated for slaughter are kept in pens.
    • During this period, the cows mature for two or three years or until they reach about 1,500 pounds or gain around 50% fat. The way Wagyu are fed and cared for is important to ensuring that they reach this milestone. Wagyu are never given growth promotants, steroids, hormones or drugs to help them gain weight faster. The process is natural, which means it takes more time than it does in the typical methods used in the U.S.
    • Most Wagyu farmers provide their cows with three meals a day made up of high-energy ingredients, including hay, grain and wheat. Often, this feed is imported from other countries, which contributes to the high cost of Wagyu cultivation. They are generally weighed once a month and are expected to gain around 2.5 pounds per day.
  • There is a special kind of Wagyu Steak called Olive Wagyu.
    • It is a brand of Wagyu that comes from cattle raised on a small Japanese island called Shodoshima that is famous for its olive oil industry. In 2006, cattle farmer Masaki Ishii wanted to find a way to use the by-product of olive oil production as feed for his cows
      • He went to olive oil makers, took the olive peels and toasted them so they became sweeter and mixed it with rice straw, barley, grains, and the cows loved it
    • He shared the recipe with other farmers in the area and they all bought in and started doing it
      • Because of the cows’ diet, Olive Wagyu is highly marbled with fat that’s a light yellow color, and it produces a flavor profile so unique that the meat beat out 182 others for the Best Fat Quality category at the 2017 Wagyu Olympics, a six-day contest that takes place every five years. Beef producers from all over Japan enter their finest cuts.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Wagyu cattle are not routinely massaged or serenaded with classical music (at least not daily).
    • However, farmers do take great care to ensure that their muscles do not become tense. This generally means simply avoiding rigorous activity and stress, but it may also involve using a stiff brush to increase blood circulation and work out tension. It’s important for Wagyu to remain in a stress-free environment because stress increases adrenaline and contributes to tensed muscles and tough meat.
    • The length of time it takes to fatten the cows and the price of importing their feed is what contributes to the high cost of wagyu beef.
  • After reading about all the breeding and how the cows are processed and how much money they are worth… my next question was: What cut do people usually buy?
    • According to LiveJapan.com: The most sought-after is sirloin meat (サーロイン / sāroin), generally used to make wagyu steak or sukiyaki. The meat around the loin boasts a fine marbling and thus makes for the best cuts to savor the characteristic taste of Japanese wagyu beef.
    • For people who don’t stare at butcher posters all day, the sirloin is on the cows back. It is towards the rear end of the cow, but not quite it’s butt (which is referred to as the round).
Taken from: https://www.foodbeast.com/news/a-cheat-sheet-to-beef-cuts-price-and-best-cooking-method/
  • Now if you have heard of Wagyu, chances are you have heard of Kobe Beef. Here’s the difference
    • Kobe, in short, is a variety of Wagyu. … So “Wagyu” refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan or the Japanese-style. Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo. (Hyogo’s capital city is Kobe, thus the name).
    • Because Kobe beef exemplifies everything that makes Wagyu better. Kobe beef is considered the most abundantly marbled in the world, brimming with the creamiest, most decadent, most flavorful streaks of fat a steak can have. period
    • A major factor in the quality of Kobe steaks is the uncompromising regulations the region uses for its cattle. To be labelled Kobe, cattle must meet the following seven standards upon slaughter:
      • Bullock (steer) or virgin cow.
      • Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture.
      • Fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture.
      • Meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture.
      • Marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale.
      • Meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale.
      • An overall weight not exceeding 470 kg (1,036 pounds).
    • Because of these stringent standards, only between 3,000 and 4,000 head of cattle qualify as authentic Kobe cattle each year.
  • So if you have ever seen a menu in the States advertising that they serve Kobe or Wagyu even, they are most likely lying.
    • When it comes to wagyu, the label may be more than a little misleading. In the mid-2010s, some of New York City’s most famous steakhouses and restaurants were listing “Kobe” wagyu beef on their menus. An investigation by Inside Edition brought one problem to light, however: places like Old Homestead Steakhouse and Le Bernardin weren’t serving true Kobe wagyu beef like what was listed on the menu. The restaurant brand McCormick & Schmick’s was doing the same, and it had to settle a class-action lawsuit because of it.
    • The problem comes down to labeling regulations set by the United States Department of Agriculture. The US law states that beef only has to have 46.9 percent wagyu genetics to sell as wagyu at retail, according to Bon Appetit, and the rest can be angus. Restaurants don’t have to listen to these labeling regulations at all and can call whatever beef they wish wagyu. This makes wading through wagyu beef labels like walking through the Wild West of questionable information.
    • Only certain restaurants are permitted to sell the imported Kobe Beef, the real stuff. So if you are out on the town and decide to fork over ridiculous prices for a Kobe Beef dish, ask to see the “From Japan” sticker on the package. In my book, if You are paying those crazy prices then that is not an inappropriate request.
  • While the popularity of Wagyu has risen internationally (with Japans exports rising by 200% in the past 5 years) the demand for Wagyu in Japan has actually dropped.
    • And while Wagyu Beef, Kobe, and Olive Wagyu are still insanely expensive (some plates costing $300), that may soon change.
    • All those regulations Japan enforces on their Beef industry didn’t keep the Wagyu genetics from leaving the island.
    • Wagyu beef that has been genetically tested as 100% authentic Wagyu is now being bred in places like the UK. Other countries such as US, Australia, and some Middle Eastern countries are interbreeding Wagyu with their own cattle creating a meat with similar quality.
    • Here’s only hoping: A much more affordable Wagyu dish might be available to everyone within the near future.

Thanks for Listening Who’d a Thunkers! Until next week 🙂

CREDIT

This video is long. Very long. But it was incredibly satisfying to see that I wasn’t the only one to understand the show Wilfred this way.

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