ALTAVISTA, Va. — Wagyu translated from Japanese to English literally means “Japanese cow.”
For beef connoisseurs and cattle producers around the world, however, the word wagyu means much more. It refers to what is widely accepted as the finest, most tender and flavorful beef in the world.
It is also the most expensive beef in the world.
Virginia cattle producer Dale Moore became intrigued enough with certain aspects of Wagyu beef, the flavor and the pricing, that he decided to sell off his herd of Angus livestock and begin building a herd of Japanese Wagyu. Today Moore is working a herd of 130 head of Japanese beef cattle on his Altavista farm.
“I remember the first time I actually tasted Wagyu,” Moore explained, while he drove his four-wheeler from one barn and field to another, feeding his herd and taking care of other late-day chores on his sprawling, hilltop farm.
“We were at the Greenbrier Resort (in West Virginia). I was sitting in the restaurant, looking at a menu and I saw they had Wagyu beef cuts for $12 an ounce.” Chuckling, Moore said, “I asked the waiter if they had smaller cuts, like 4 ounces. If I had known how much difference there would be in flavor, I would have probably asked for an 8-ounce cut. There was just no comparison to anything I had ever had.”
The small portion, however, was enough to prompt Moore to begin making some tremendous changes.
Continuing his story, Moore said, “After the meal, I called a good friend of mine back home that does a lot of internet research and said, ‘Jim, I need you to research Japanese Wagyu beef cattle.”
That was seven years ago.
Today, Dale and his wife, Lisa Moore, along with their business partners, Jim and Ann Wharton, are the owners of Virginia Wagyu.
Virginia Wagyu is a family owned and operated, cattle producer that is dedicated to becoming the “premier Wagyu breeder in Virginia both of the full blood and percentage Wagyu,” according to their website. The operation offers a full range of services as well as livestock.
Virginia Wagyu sells bred full-blood Wagyu cattle, recipient cows carrying a full-blood Wagyu embryo, full-blood Wagyu heifers and full-blood Wagyu bulls, as well as semen.
Currently, the farm is full of calves.
“We have no shortage of calves this year,” Moore said. “We really have more than I’d like.”
Moore made a point to note that a Wagyu bull’s fertility far surpasses that of his Angus peer.
“We have all of our bulls checked (for fertility),” Moore said as he quickly sketched out a diagram to emphasize his point. “Our lab guy said that in an average semen sample you can actually count each individual sperm cell,” he said as he marked on his impromptu visual aid. “In a Wagyu bull’s sample on the other hand, they are so thick that they are impossible to count.”
Moore also brought up Wagyu’s heat tolerance and durability compared to the breeds of beef cattle that are more widely utilized in the U.S.
“The heat doesn’t seem to faze them in the least,” Moore said. “This past summer I looked out the window one hot afternoon and I had to call Lisa over to show her. The whole herd was out grazing like nothing was going on. It was 95 degrees out.”
Moore’s herd is grass fed, too.
“I feed mainly to make it easier to handle them,” he said.
In addition to handling the day-to-day operation of Virginia Wagyu, of which Moore takes care of the lion’s share, he is also the owner and operator of Moore’s Electrical and Mechanical, a local subcontracting operation that has grown over the years to work close to 500 employees today.
Farming is his passion, though, and his enthusiasm for Virginia Wagyu is impossible to conceal.
Pulling vacuum sealed samples first from a deep freezer in his garage and then from another in a workshop out on the farm, Moore took the time to point out not only the rich fat marbling throughout each cut, but the slight differences, if any, between grass fed Wagyu and those finished on feed.
The unique intramuscular fat marbling that is characteristic of Wagyu beef not only gives it a pinkish color but is the secret behind the delectable, melt in your mouth quality that the breed is known for. The beef also has a finer texture than other breeds of cattle.
Moore’s first experience with the cost of Wagyu is not unique by any means.
Wagyu is, indeed, expensive.
Expensive does not mean paying an extra dollar or even 2 dollars per pound at checkout, either, if and when one can even find it.
A restaurant patron’s favorite full-sized cut of steak, served at one of the few eating establishments that even serve true Japanese Wagyu beef, can cost as much as $300.
The general consensus of those that have enjoyed a meal that included the fine cuisine is that it is well worth the money. The meat is not for “mass consumption,” but it is to be savored and the entire experience appreciated for what it is.
The mystique that surrounds Wagyu beef is perpetuated in part by the close regulations and guidelines the Japanese have placed, and adhere to, when designating a head of livestock or the meat that it produces as Wagyu beef.
True Wagyu beef comes from any one of five breeds of Japanese cattle.
Several areas of Japan offer Wagyu beef that carries the names of the area it comes from.
Kobe beef is a prime example of area naming of Wagyu beef. Matsusaka, Yonezawa, Mishima, Omi and Sanda are all consistent with area naming of Japanese Wagyu beef.
Japanese beef grading ranges from one to five, with one the lowest, five the highest grade.
Within the grading system is also a quality system that ranges from one to 12. The system considers factors such as fat color and content meat color, marbling.
A Wagyu beef cut graded excellent, or A5, has a quality score of between eight and 12 points. This is a top of the line, cream of the crop piece of Japanese beef.
“This beef isn’t for slapping on the grill,” Moore said, pointing to the strip steak he had in his hand. “Most recommend that it be cooked in a cast iron skillet.”
For more information on Virginia Wagyu, visit virginiawagyu.com.