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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Exporting wagyu beef

Shoko Matsumoto

Nov. 2, 2017

A premium variety of Japanese wagyu is making its way overseas. Even though Matsusaka beef is in short supply, plans are underway to export it while protecting the brand at the same time.

The beef is named after the region where it is farmed in Japan’s Mie Prefecture. Local restaurateurs say it is worlds apart from regular steak varieties. “This is not meat. This is Matsusaka beef,” touts one chef.

The beef has evenly distributed swirls of fat and connoisseurs say each bite melts in your mouth. “The texture and taste are so different from other beef,” says one satisfied diner in Matsusaka. People come from all over Japan just to sample the expensive wagyu.

Use of the brand name is limited to producers in the city of Matsusaka and nine surrounding towns. While Matsusaka beef is well-known in Japan, it is not as famous overseas and some people in the industry see an opportunity to appeal to wealthy consumers in other markets.

Matsusaka Mayor Masato Takegami is pushing the export plan as the director of an organization of beef farmers and distributors. He was inspired after a trip to Singapore where he learned about fake versions of Matsusaka beef being sold there.

“A lot of beef is being sold under the brand Matsusaka, and it’s not from Japan. It’s poor-quality beef that’s exploiting the name,” he says. Takegami wanted to start exporting authentic Matsusaka beef to Singapore immediately in order to protect the reputation.

He met resistance from some local industry figures concerned about sending the most scarce and expensive grade of beef overseas. Cattle farmer Yasuhiro Takeuchi, who has reared Matsusaka cows for more than 20 years, was worried by what he thought was a hasty export decision.

Takeuchi’s work is labor-intensive. The luxury-grade cows are placed in a separate environment from a young age and for three years, they are raised on a special diet and massaged. Still, only a small percentage make the top grade, and of the 400 currently in Takeuchi’s care, only 11 qualify.

“We can’t just start exporting immediately. It would take three years to get ready. We need a proper plan,” he says. Beef producers and city officials took some time to reach a deal.

The farmers agreed to export the beef from no more than 24 cows each year. “We looked for points of compromise and came up with a consensus,” says Matsusaka city official Toshifumi Fujitake.

Mayor Takegami hopes for more. “We’ve laid the groundwork for exports,” he says. “I think everyone shares the desire to protect and nurture the Matsusaka brand.”

Now the beef has been given the all-clear to will leave Japanese shores, overseas customers will have an opportunity to discover the rare, pricey delicacy.