When you hear the term, “Kobe beef,” a few things are likely to come to mind: the velvety, fatty richness of the meat, the extraordinarily high price of a steak and the lavish lifestyle of the cattle. The pampering these cows receive is renowned and the image of beer-chugging bovines has been seared into the popular imagination.
But it turns out that the imagination is where such tales belong. So says Yoshinori Nakanishi, a Kobe cattle farmer who's been in the business for nearly 40 years. “Neither I nor any beef farmer I know would ever dream of giving cows beer,” he says.
Nakanishi, 56, explains that what Kobe beef really comes down to is love for the highly sensitive creatures, proper care and feeding them the right blend of grains and grass. The rest is taken care of by nature, which does a fine job of turning out a meat whose level of quality is in the stratosphere.
A relative newcomer to Japanese cuisine, beef didn’t become part of the diet until a little over 100 years ago. Till then, cows native to Japan, called wagyu, had been used only as work cattle. Of wagyu’s four varieties, the one that’s risen to international stardom because of Kobe beef is Tajima, which belongs to the Kuroge Wagyu (Japanese Black) breed, hailing from Hyogo Prefecture. Yet there’s always been a fair amount of confusion about what exactly Kobe beef is.