Australian producers are finally cashing in on the worldwide popularity of Japan’s high-end Wagyu beef.

Story By Paul Myers

For beef cattle they’re small, angular and resemble a dairy or dual-purpose breed more than the source of the world’s best beef. In just 20 years they have gone from being unknown in Australia to revered. Now, you can hardly find a top restaurant without Wagyu on the menu. It’s an undisputed fact that here, as elsewhere around the world, Wagyu – which translates literally as ‘Japanese cattle’ – is giving British and European beef breeds a good kick in the hindquarter.
How and why Wagyu beef is ruling the roost is a mixture of genetics, feeding, marketing and the breed’s innate adaptability to produce highly flavoursome marbled beef in different climates and production systems.
Australia’s largest cattle producer, the Australian Agricultural Company, and retailer Gerry Harvey’s Security Foods are the country’s two leading Wagyu beef producers. Almost 100,000 Wagyu and Wagyu-cross cattle – up to a third of cattle in feedlots – are turned off feedlots each year at about 420 kilograms dressed weight. The breed is also making inroads in grass-fattening programs.
Even so, only 15 percent of Wagyu beef produced in Australia is consumed here. Most is sold in Asia and the Middle East, often pre-packed, and some 15,000 live Wagyu and Wagyu-cross cattle are shipped to Japan each year for fattening.
Among the many attributes of Wagyu beef are its marbling characteristics, even when grass-fed, and high levels of essential omega-3 and -6 unsaturated fatty acids. Its rich flavour is ideal for serving in small portions, with Asian restaurants here and overseas prime outlets for producers.
As early adopters of Wagyu in Australia, David Blackmore, Nick Sher and brothers John and Keith Hammond are among the breed’s antipodean pioneers. Each has adopted a different approach to producing Wagyu beef, but all with the same outcome: marketing under their own brand.
David, whose full blood (pure Japanese genetics) Wagyu features at the best restaurants in Australia, Asia and the US, is a specialist producer of the highest marble score carcases in the country. His is the traditional Japanese way of producing Wagyu beef: 600 days of feeding a grain-based ration to cattle that are bred after a meticulous genetic selection process.

This story excerpt is from Issue #80

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2012