Literally translating to “Japanese cow,” wagyu beef derived from native Asian cattle is a treat for discerning carnivores thanks to its exquisite texture and flavor.
“Wagyu beef tastes buttery, almost sweet with delicate notes of umami,” says Florencia Palmaz, owner of northern California-based Genesee Valley Ranch. “Some say they can also taste the faintest nutty nuance.”
Together with her ranch team, Palmaz humanely raises purebred Black Wagyu cows on an airy spread of former Gold Rush land nestled within the Plumas National Forest in the Sierra Mountains.
“So many times in the ranching world when we want to eat responsibly, we end up sacrificing what’s delicious,” she says. ““The primary focus for us is to create a high-quality product in a sustainable way.”
At Genesee Valley’s high elevation, the melting snowpack feeds the property’s streams, allowing an abundance of native grass to grow. The cows don’t have to walk long distances through stubbly pastures to find nutrition, preserving the meat’s high fat content.
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Although American palates are more likely to be familiar with Angus beef simply because of its wide availability and marketing efforts, wagyu offers the advantages of a remarkably tender texture and notably rich flavor, especially when it comes to some of the traditionally tougher cuts.
“The strips and rib eyes are good, of course, but I think some of the best cuts of the wagyu are found in the shoulder,” Palmaz says. “I encourage people to explore the wagyu versions of Angus cuts you’d never normally buy and see how delicious they really are.”
Because wagyu beef is so heavily marbled with fat, consumers often find they’re satisfied with a much smaller portion of meat than they’re used to eating.
“Don’t expect to sit down for the average American steakhouse experience and eat a 12- or 14-ounce wagyu New York strip in one sitting!” Palmaz laughs. “You’ll probably be really happy with 4 to 6 ounces, and when paired with fresh seasonal salads, it feels like a healthy meal while still being indulgent.”
Ranked by quality on a Japanese grading scale from A2 to A12, wagyu beef carries higher price tags than its grocery store counterparts. For example, Genesee Valley Ranch wagyu starts at $20 per pound for ground round spanning up to $170 for a pair of 14-ounce New York strips.
“There are many factors that go into [pricing],” Palmaz describes. “First, wagyu is far less prevalent than your run-of-the-mill herd. Our herd has an expansive area of land to roam, the team managing the herd is experienced, and we practice sustainable farming. All of this combined, and the utmost care that goes into raising each animal, sets the bar high in terms of an exemplary product that naturally commands a higher price point.”
When shopping for wagyu, Palmaz recommends asking questions to make sure the meat is coming from a reputable source. Once home, prepare your purchase with care.
“Most of the mid-section cuts like loins and strips that have a fine structure and thinner marbling can handle medium rare,” she notes. “Just cook them quickly and get a nice sear. I like to slice and serve them as medallions with mashed potatoes or a parsnip puree. In my house, one New York strip can feed three of us.”
With a coarser grain and thicker marbling, the shoulder cuts can be a little trickier. Cooking them to a well-done temperature renders out all the precious fat, yet cooking to medium rare can leave them chewy. The same goes for the leg cuts like sirloins and bavettes.
“For those cuts, there’s a sweet spot in the middle at medium,” Palmaz says.
Think Goldilocks while you’re cooking. Not too tough, not too rare, but just right.