Marbling, or intramuscular fat, refers to the fine veins of fat in beef that spread throughout the meat itself, which keep it juicy during cooking. It should be very pale to white, and have a soft, mild flavour - different to the fat found on the outside of the average steak (extramuscular). The more marbling there is within a cut of meat, the more flavourful and tender it will be. Marbling is obtained by grain feeding the cattle for long periods, of up to 500 days.
Wagyu is a treasured, Japanese breed of cattle that is highly marbled. The Japanese word Wagyu can be translated to mean Japanese beef - as "wa" means Japanese and "gyu" means beef. It is characterised by great veins and specks of pure-white fat that intersect throughout its meat. When cooked, the marbling dissolves and gives Wagyu its tenderness, flavour and "melt in the mouth" moisture.
"Marble score" refers to the grading of intramuscular fat in Wagyu beef - in Australia, the marble score starts at 1 and goes to 9+. The higher the marble score, the better the Wagyu and the higher the price it can achieve. Top Australian Wagyu with a marble score of 9 or higher can fetch $150 a kilogram wholesale. This price is set by the top international chefs from countries like Macau and Hong Kong.
The world famous "Kobe" beef brand is Wagyu beef that comes from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. Kobe is beef produced from male cattle, while the "Matsuzaka" beef brand (even more exclusive) is produced from female cattle. The bloodlines used to produce this beef are called Tajima.
With the prestigious Wagyu beef selling for such high prices, you need be careful of counterfeits. There is a great deal of ordinary beef being falsely labelled as "Wagyu," and sold in restaurants, pubs and cafes for an extremely low price - they are not Wagyu and taste nothing like the real thing! If the price seems to good to be true, then it is. If you're suspicious, ask to see a raw piece to check the marbling - it should be pure white.
Well-known brands of Wagyu beef , their marble score and wholesale price:
- Blackmore Wagyu: Marble score 9+, $200/kg
- Master Kobe: Marble score 9+, $130/kg
- Sher Wagyu: Marble score 9, $135/kg
- Moondarra grass-fed Wagyu: Marble score 8, $120/kg
- Kobe Cuisine: Marble score 6+, $70/kg
Wagyu Beef - "the fat melts on the tongue and coats the mouth with a moist, clean and nutty sensation that disappears quickly to leave a lingering beefy flavour" mmmmm...
Want to know more?: The Age Epicure, Blackmore Wagyu Beef