Literally translating to “Japanese cow,” wagyu beef derived from native Asian cattle is a treat for discerning carnivores with its exquisite texture and flavor.
“Wagyu beef tastes buttery, almost sweet with delicate umami notes,” says Florencia Palmaz, owner of Genesee Valley Ranch, based in Northern California. “Some say they can taste even the slightest hint of hazelnut, too.”
Along with his ranch team, Palmaz humanely raises purebred black Wagyu cows on an airy expanse of former gold rush land nestled in the Plumas National Forest in the Sierra Mountains.
“So many times in the farming world, when we want to eat responsibly, we end up sacrificing what’s delicious,” she says. “The main goal for us is to create a high quality product in a sustainable way. »
At the high elevation of Genesee Valley, melting snow feeds streams on the property, allowing an abundance of native grasses to grow. Cows do not have to walk long distances across stubble pasture to feed, thus preserving the high fat content of the meat.
Although American palates are more likely to be familiar with Angus beef simply because of its wide availability and marketing efforts, wagyu offers the benefits of a remarkably tender texture and a uniquely rich flavor, especially when these are some of the traditionally harder cuts.
“Strips and rib eye are good, sure, but I think some of the best cuts in wagyu are in the shoulder,” Palmaz says. “I encourage people to explore wagyu versions of Angus cuts that you would never normally buy and see how delicious they really are.”
Because wagyu beef is so heavily marbled with fat, consumers often find they are satisfied with a much smaller portion of meat than they are used to eating.
“Don’t expect to sit down for the average American steakhouse experience and eat a 12 or 14 ounce strip of New York wagyu in one sitting!” Palmaz laughs. “You’ll probably be very happy with 4-6 ounces, and when paired with fresh, seasonal salads, it looks like a healthy yet indulgent meal.”
Graded by quality on a Japanese grading scale of A2 to A12, wagyu beef is priced higher than its grocery store counterparts. For example, the Genesee Valley Ranch wagyu starts at $20 a pound for a ground ride going up to $170 for a pair of 14-ounce New York strips.
“Many factors come into play [pricing]“, describes Palmaz. “First, wagyu is much less prevalent than your regular herd. Our herd has a vast area of land to roam, the herd management team is experienced, and we practice sustainable farming. All of this combined, and the utmost care brought to the breeding of each animal, sets the bar high in terms of an exemplary product which naturally commands a higher price.
When buying wagyu, Palmaz recommends asking questions to make sure the meat is from a reputable source. Once at home, prepare your purchase carefully.
“Most mid-section cuts like loins and strips that have a fine structure and finer marbling can handle rare meat,” she notes. “You just need to cook them quickly and get a nice sear. I like to slice them and serve them in medallions with mashed potatoes or mashed parsnips. At home, a New York strip can feed the three of us.
With a coarser grain and thicker marbling, shoulder cuts can be a little trickier. Cooking them at a well-done temperature renders all the precious fat, but cooking them to rare can make them chewy. The same goes for thigh cuts like sirloins and flank steaks.
“For these cuts, there’s a mid to mid sweet spot,” Palmaz says.
Think Goldilocks while you cook. Not too hard, not too rare, but just right.