Better Than Kobe

In rarity, price, and marbling, Mishima beef (見島牛) is regarded as superior than the now not-so-exotic Kobe beef.  Mishima cows* are thoroughbred in Japan; they have not crossed with European breeds because the island on which they graze has existed in relative isolation.  Mishima (見島) is a small island off the Southern sloping end of Honshu, in the Sea of Japan.

mishima island

Mishima (見島), the home of the prized Mishima cattle.

mishima cow

A Mishima cow*.

The cattle of this island have lived isolation from other Japanese cattle breeds for about 200 years, and either because of their genetic purity, their limited number, or meat quality, a head of mishima cattle can ring up a substantial multi-digit figure shaming Kobe beef to the discount aisle.

mishima beef

Note the extensive marbling.

Some regard Mishima beef as the best Japan has to offer, and it is a difficult find (at least the genuine Mishima beef anyway), even in Japan.  The meat, like Kobe beef, features extensive marbling, and has the succulency and melt-in-your-mouth properties that is oh so memorable, but on an entirely different level.  The veins of fat laced in the beef have a delicate flavour, and is said to lend the meat a distinct sweetness.  However, the meat only sets up the potential for a velvety, subtly rich experience for our taste buds—it comes down to expert preparation by the right chef to bring out the beef’s flavourful character.  And rightly so, for something so rare, it almost seems natural for the beef to be paired with superb cooking techniques, fitting of its quality.  Too much heat and the fat in the meat will lose its integrity.

On a side note, to further denounce the exoticness (in case you doubt the existence of this word, click here) of Kobe beef:  In the late 1990s (before the Japanese cattle import sanction in 2003), Kobe cattle rearing has been outsourced from Japan largely to ranchers in the United States.  The Wagyu cattle (Kobe cows* are a type of black Wagyu, from Taijima) raised overseas were more cost-effective for the Japanese beef producers, and were shipped back to Kobe for slaughter so they can still be classed as legitimate Kobe grade meat.  However, as this shows, some Kobe cattle don’t actually spend very much time in Japan.

blt steak menu

On this menu of a particular hotel restaurant (Bistro Laurent Tourondel) in Miami Beach, Florida, it is made explicit the origin of the Wagyu:"American Wagyu skirt"

There are also Wagyu cattle that are raised and slaughtered in the U.S., and these arguable counterfeits sometimes appear on menus as Kobe beef implying a transnational flight; however, it might just be that the cuts come from the very same continent.  While the American alternative cannot be classified as Kobe beef, taste and meat quality is sometimes said to be on par (or even superior) than the Japanese original.

*kindly turn a blind eye to my “mis”terming of ‘cows’ as synonymous with cattle



Filed under Japan & Asia, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Better Than Kobe

  1. Your brief article is full was mis information, as a wagyu breeder, I suggest you do your homework. You are correct about the Mishima, but not much else. We have fullblood wagyu here in the USA, and have the same genetics as the japanese. We also have Mishima genetics here too. KOBE beef comes from 3 strains of Wagyu, not just Tajima. No one in the business, except to please the tourist’s, massage or feed beer , either here or in Japan. KOBE is from an area of Japan, but the primary factor in having Kobe beef is the quality of the carcass, not just the breed. many fullblood wagyus do not qualify as Kobe , either in japan or here. Also I know of no Wagyu fed in the US , then sent back to Japan. Do your homework, all Wagyu that becomes KOBE Beef is over 30 months of Age. The Japanese will not let any beef from the USA over 20 months be shipped to Japan.

    • You’re right about the Japanese sanction on beef imports; however, prior to the ban in 2003, the outsourcing I mentioned was not so unheard of. Thanks for the correction – I will make appropriate adjustments so as to not mislead readers that this is still happening now.

      “No one in the business, except to please the tourist’s, massage or feed beer , either here or in Japan.” I may be wrong to generalize about the U.S. (and I will make sure this misleading information is removed), but if you had access to recent information in Japanese, you will quickly realize that the practices you deem gimmicks are actually still in circulation. Admittedly, the massages and beer are traditional practices that are not as pervasive than they were, say, thirty years ago, but they are employed to fatten the animal so the appropriate marbling appears and not just “to please the [tourists].”

      “KOBE beef comes from 3 strains of Wagyu, not just Tajima.” This isn’t necessarily true. In Japan, for Kobe beef to be classified as Kobe beef, the animal must be of the Taijima strain from the Hyogo Prefecture. However, the term ‘Kobe beef’ is used loosely in North America, often used interchangeably with Wagyu. Thus Kobe beef can, as you say, be all about the carcass quality and not of birthright. Unfortunately, if you are using the term in its original sense, it refers exclusively to the Taijima breed of cattle, and not just any Wagyu breed. In fact, in Japan, neither crossbreeds nor purebreds are even recognized as Wagyu cattle as there are contaminant genes in the animal. Champagne (and its strict requirements and exclusivity) is a fitting analogy to illustrate this point.

      “[M]any fullblood wagyus do not qualify as Kobe, either Japan or here.” Precisely, as it depends on where the animal is conceived. Like I just mentioned, Kobe beef is only Kobe beef if it is from the Hyogo prefecture, so the logic would hold if some fullblood varieties are not classed as Kobe.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hello,
    I just interviewed a Kobe farmer in Hyogo-ken, and I learned that for a steak to be certified Kobe beef, it must have been raised and slaughtered in Hyogo-ken, it must have been slaughtered at the right age, it must have the right amount of marbling, and it must be able to show a minimum of five generations on each side of pure Tajima lineage.

    That’s why a Tajima cow could be born, raised, and slaughtered in Kobe and still not be Kobe beef, because it might not have enough marbling, or not meet one of the other requirements.

    • I had no idea about the five years of Tajima lineage on each side, but I guess I’m not too surprised; the more I learn about Kobe beef, the more exclusive it sounds.

      Thanks for your input!

  3. King Solomon

    “Can we all just get alone?” You both seem right on many aspects; however, remember that your fact source is predicated on the honesty of your competitor, Japan. It has neither been proven nor disproved that beer and or massage are the primal quality of “Kobe.” I don’t doubt that there’s Mishima cattle in the United States. If you grease the right palm and anything possible. Technically, I think any calf born in the United States should be considered American breed with the exception of origins.For instance, if you take a pink papered German Shepherd that is classified as German born but this does not necessarily controls the quality and origin of his offspring.

  4. Thanks a lot! Certain facts in this article are quite true. I don’t think the way in which Kobe beef is portrayed here is the most suitable for the everyday beef eater, though.

  5. there are so many factors at play concentrating on the linage of the beef is an important factor but in the long run only one of the plethora of aspects to a good steak. comparing grade 9 meats, nothing according to people i know will compete with Mishima beef. however we dont serve a raw slab of mishima beef, even tataki is seared, these things are exposed to restaurants where there will be a number of factors in place. 1st and foremost is whether the restaurant has the correct level of clientele to move steaks over $120. often there will be a number of steaks on the menu and if the most expensive isn’t sold then is the restaurant in a position to discard (or give to staff) those that they haven’t rotated. The steaks can stay in an aging state for a long time but before sale they need to be prepared and brought to room temp to insure even cooking. Even some very exclusive restaurants that I have been to have had better steaks in their mid range because of economic influences. some of the best steaks i’ve had have been exposed to a very complex aging process and then cooked in a specific method that was ideal for the piece of meat and the meat was premium australian Angus. while mishima beef would normally not be available in a restaurant that doesn’t respect the product i know of a lot of places that sell Wagyu for a very high price that may have even spent time in the freezer post aging (this is generally due to the restaurant underperforming)!!

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