This year – 2014 – will enter the history books as a new milestone in fine dining. In July, the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries and Forestries has granted the very first licenses for Kobe Beef exports into the EU.
Europe is, for the very first time, getting to know the true and superior flavour of the original Kobe Beef – a taste so spectacular that it is often equalled to the best champagne among the sparkling wines. It is thanks to the persistence of gourmands like Frank Albers from Albers Food, who kept calling the Japanese Ministry to ask for licenses to be given to European importers and sellers.
Albers says: “There is only a finite amount of Kobe Beef available. The farms are small and every farmer only has between three and 30 cattle. We’re talking 4,000 animals a year that are available for the whole world. That’s not a lot.” Indeed it isn’t, considering that meat consumption is going into several million tonnes a year in certain countries. But Kobe Beef is regulated heavily. Only Tajima cattle with the right genetic inheritance – bloodlines that can be traced back to the last phase of the Edo period (1853-1867) – can be certified as such. Regulation also incorporates the environment in which the cattle are held, situated in a mountainous region near the sea of Japan, offering clean air and water in a modest climate. And lastly, it is the expertise of the farmers and breeders that make the meat one of the most expensive delicacies in the world. The very small farms are able to care individually for each animal and feed them high-energy food. The muscly cattle were originally used to plough rice fields, but because nowadays they are held – not unlike horses – in stables, the fat enters the muscles and produces the unique marbling that Wagyu is so famous for.
Albers has only recently bought six animals and has already sold out. He supplies several restaurants in Germany as well as Harrods and restaurant Goodman in London and has also opened an online shop, where customers can view the exact piece of meat that they are buying. The meat will be delivered with preparation suggestions for raw, sous vide and pan fried dishes.
What makes the Kobe Beef trade so transparent is the licensing and labelling of each piece of meat that is exported. And because the numbers of animals is not expanding any time soon, the Japan has now put a stop on new licenses as of 25 December 2014. This way, says Albers, best possible quality can be guaranteed. “Usually what happens when there is great demand but not enough produce, customers are lost. Then prices are lowered so that customers come back, but the quality goes down as well when the product is cheap and that will destroy the product. But with the Kobe Beef, the licensing from animal ID number, export date, export country, meat weight, producer all the way up to the seller is so strict that the quality will always be kept to the highest standards.”