"Kobe beef" is a given name for the specific Japanese bovine breed Tajima-gyu, bred with very strict rules in Hyogo prefecture. Probably one of the most famous regional specialty outside of Japan, it is made from a mix between wagyu (Japanese beef) and Holstein, a much more popular breed. The taste of this meat is delicate, with one of the most savorsome textures.
However, since the label is very difficult to obtain, not all of the animals can produce this renown recipe. The meat must be marbled with fat and must be very tender, according to the promotion Association, distributing and marketing the Kobe Beef, and strongly protecting the specialty with an official certificate.
Despite the long period of breeding (about two years and a half), only around two thirds of the animals success in passing the final controls.
An international reputation hard to control
According to the legend, the recognition and growth of this exceptional breed finds its origin after the opening in 1868 of Kobe port for international trade. An Englishman was delighted by the palatable taste of these animals, usually employed for the agricultural works. Starting from this, the demand generated the creation of a "brand".
Until recently, the Kobe beef was still forbidden to be exported. However, we can find this designation for numerous meats served all around the world, especially in North America, without necessarily respecting the strict conditions (weight of the body, proportion of edible pieces, marbling index…). The embargo was removed in 2012 for Macao, and then for other territories including the USA.
Numerous restaurants in the world are now officially recognized by the association but in 2015, 80% of the total production was still consumed in Japan. However, it still represents a minor part of the total beef consumption of the archipelago.
Gourmets have known for a long time the excellency of the original beef and numerous celebrities (Barack Obama in the first place) research this taste during their travels in Japan. It is also being said that the famous basketball player Kobe Bryant was named after this famous meat, which taste stupefied his parents' palate !
From preparation to tasting
The production of Kobe beef requires a good selection of the animals and mostly strict breeding and feeding conditions. We take care of these animals by minimizing their level of stress and without any sort of exercising, in order to favorise their fat production. In Hyogo region where they graze, the day/night temperatures’ differences are important and they benefit of a naturally mineralized water which both contribute to their qualities.
An urban legend says that the animals are rubbed everyday with beer or saké. This remains very marginal but it is true that some breeders actually do it! The common objective being to reach a high level of tenderness to optimise the melting texture once in the mouth.
Kobe beef is mostly served as steaks, in shabu-shabu, in sukiyaki or even in sashimi forms. Yet, the best way to consume it, for us, is to go a teppan’yaki, where a piece of meat will be cut in small parts and cooked on a heating plate in front of you. The animal is composed of different pieces that a specialized chef will know how to correctly exploit and transform (see our pictures below).
It is obviously in Japan that we will find the purest beef, and we can only recommend you to taste it in one of the numerous Kobe restaurants offering some. The meat is famous for being expensive to produce, rare in quantity of cattle and this is logically seen in the final receipt. For small budgets, do not hesitate to go at lunch and therefore benefit from lighter prices.
If Kobe beef became renown all around the world, let’s not forget that in Japan, it is not the only one that gourmets fight for: Matsuzaka (Mie prefecture) and Yonezawa (Yamagata prefecture) are as famous.