Kobe beef is renowned among carnivores for its rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. You'll find it at pricey steakhouses and sushi restaurants, and also at some butchers and online retailers, where a four-ounce filet mignon might set you back $50. Kobe beef, also known as "Wagyu," comes from Wagyu cattle raised in the Hyogo region of Japan. Increasingly, you'll also find "American Kobe," a more affordable alternative that is produced by American ranchers raising Wagyu cattle domestically.
Morgan Ranch, in Burwell, Neb., started raising Wagyu in 1992. Co-owner Dan Morgan explains: "Wagyu are genetically selected for eating quality - marbleizing, tenderness, juiciness, and flavor"- as opposed to other characteristics such as hardiness, fast growth, or milk production. He compares Wagyu meat to fine wine: it's a specialty item for discriminating palates.
Joe Lazzara, owner of Joe's Butcher Shop in Carmel, Ind., carries both the Japanese and American varities, and a Kobe steak costs about $110 per pound, while a similar cut of American Kobe goes for about half that.
For Lazzara, selling Kobe beef is a mark of prestige. "Carrying Kobe says we're the kind of purveyor who knows about meat; it gives us credibility. If we're knowledgeable about Kobe beef, just imagine everything else we must know."
And once a customer's purchased a prime cut, how should he cook it? "Carefully," Lazzara advises. "Sear it at a high temperature, then finish it on low heat. The fat melts and coats the meat with flavor as you cook it."
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