Thursday, March 19, 2009
There are five thousand heads of cattle at the Hikadami Ranch. The beef is marked “Level A5” by the Japan Meat Grading Association (the highest grade possible) and is called “brand beef.” Sendai beef is considered to be the highest-quality beef in Japan. The cattle are grain fed for three years. Their primary food is corn and soybeans.There are 12 scales in marbling standard. The beef are a cross between Wagu and Japanese Black Angus, so all the cows are jet black. The meat is not graded until the beef is slaughtered, it’s like maguro: you have to look at the cuts of meat before it can be ranked.These are like the Ferrari of beef, very expensive but you’re purchasing a “hand made” steak. It costs a lot to raise these beef for three years. The cost of Sendai beef is five to ten times higher than normal beef; it costs about $50/lb.It’s a myth that the cows are massaged, but they are fed beer if they’re not feeling well to give them energy.In 1973, growth hormones were banned in Japan. If growth hormones are used, the beef grows too fast to have a lot of fat marbling. It smells good at the beef ranch. There’s cedar sawdust on the floor and the beef (all male, all with their horns) are very calm as they greet us. They are not agitated like American cows and they kick their poop out of the back of their pens. There are five beef per pen and they have plenty of room.When my (now) ex-boyfriend was visiting me in California for the first time, he and I drove from San Francisco up to Healdsburg for the weekend to meet my family. He’s Argentinean, and his family had a large estancia where he spent weekends and summers growing up. As we drove through southern Sonoma County, where the dairy cows are kept, I rolled up my window as normal to block out the rancid cow smell.Che nearly gagged at the smell coming through the closed air-vents. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “We’ll be through this area in just a few minutes. It doesn’t last very long.”
“What IS that?” he asked me. I told him it was cows, duh! hadn’t he ever smelled a cow before? and he rolled down his window to get a better sense of the smell.
“Ellita,” he said. “That is NOT what a cow smells like. Those cows smell poisoned.”
I realized that the beef we know in the US is, in fact, poisoned. I’d never thought of it that way before. The beef in Sendai is not like that.