31 January 2017, 14:32 PM

Renowned for its breathtaking scenery, the region also boasts the longest history of producing fine Wagyu cattle – as well as dedicated and passionate farmers and workers who bring this Japanese delicacy to the world.

Wagyu beef is considered by many to be the best in the world, and this standard is heightened even further by Hida-Gyu, made from the black-haired cattle located in the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture. As well as ticking boxes where quality is concerned, the beef can also boast impressive provenance, ethical and health credentials.

The home of Hida Beef

Hida Beef comes exclusively from the Gifu Prefecture of Japan, a largely forest-covered area of 10,621 square kilometres. High mountains of the North Alps are located in the northern area of the region, including Mt. Ontake and Mt. Norikuradake, which stands at 3,000 metres.

The region is revered for its landscape which boasts breathtaking mountain views, hot springs and World Heritage sites; its clean air, pure water and wide expanses of land unquestionably play a part in producing some of the best beef in the world.

Hida-Gyu cattle

The story of Hida Beef begins with a single animal, named Yasufuku, who came to the Hida region from Hyogo Prefecture in 1981. Yasufuku is said to have possessed the DNA to produce the very best meat-yielding calves, and his bloodline includes a number of animals which have further expanded the Hida Beef brand, including Hida Shirakiyo, Shirakiyo 85-3 and Hana-Kiyokuni. Yasufuku sired 39,000 offspring during his lifetime.

All Hida-Gyu cattle are exceptionally cared for – as well as feeding on lush meadows, each one is massaged regularly to guarantee top quality meat. The cattle are fattened for 14 months, exclusively by farmers accredited by the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference. The Gifu Prefecture’s farmers are highly regarded for their fattening techniques, which generate significantly more meat than the national average. The beef itself must be awarded a Yield Grade of A or B and the texture and firmness a grade of 3, 4 or 5; these grades are dictated by the Japan Meat Grading Association. Once the beef has met all the strict criteria of the Conference, it is issued with a Hida Beef label, which lists the grade of the meat, an individual identification number, the name and address of the producer, and the certification date.

Winner at the ‘Wagyu Olympic Games’

The reputation of Hida Beef was cemented in 2002 when it won the top honours at the eighth All-Japan National Wagyu Cattle Expo, an event so large it is often referred to at the ‘Wagyu Olympic Games’. Held every five years, the event sees the finest Wagyu cattle from across Japan compete to be named the country’s best. Hida Beef’s winning streak continued into the next competition and beyond.

Recognition of the quality of Hida Beef continues, with it achieving straight victories at the Beef Cattle Expo in 2012, 2013 and 2015. This competition hosts every prefecture, each of which exhibits its best Kobe, Omi and Matsuzuka beef among others.

Panel How to serve

However you cook Hida-Gyu beef, you are guaranteed a fantastic meat. Thanks to its uniquely fine and eye-catching marbling – both within the meat itself and the fat surrounding the cuts – Hida Beef can boast flavour and texture of unique quality.

To serve as a classic steak, firstly heat a frying pan to a high temperature and leave for a few minutes to ensure an even, steady heat. Lubricate the pan with butter or oil, then place the steak in the pan for one and a half minutes on each side before taking off the heat and seasoning with salt and pepper.

While it can be tempting to only serve Hida Beef steak very simply in order to enjoy its special characteristics without distraction, to do so would be to ignore its impressive versatility. Why not try it in a Shabu-Shabu (hotpot) recipe, or as the ultimate gourmet burger?

“The region’s clean air, pure water and wide expanses of land unquestionably play a part in producing some of the very best beef in the world”

“How to source the best meat”

As co-owners of our own butcher’s shop on London’s St. John Street, our business relies upon us being able to source some of the best quality meat available to us in the UK. We’re lucky to be a position that allows us access to amazing producers, but unfortunately not everyone has that opportunity, particularly within a meat industry that has had to adapt and change (mostly for the worse) to meet increasing demand within recent years.

Because of these changes, much of what we think we know about finding quality meat is wrong. Some of it is based upon what supermarkets have led us to believe good meat should look like, through years of marketing and advertising. Some is even based upon what the USDA tell American citizens in an attempt to promote the more profitable corn and grain fed meats, and here in the UK thanks to our love for their cooking styles we’ve picked up a lot of this information. Based upon our knowledge, we’ve come up with this guide to pick the best beef you can find, as well as things to look out for.

Smell: For us, smell is the most important factor in choosing good beef. If meat smells pleasant then it’s good, unpleasant and it’s bad. Freshly cut steak will have a sweet and slightly meaty smell; meat cut for too long will smell sour, as will anything wet aged in a bag.

Touch: Good beef won’t be wet or sticky to the touch, nor should it be soft and mushy.

Colour: Grass fed beef is a deeper red than a well marbled, grain finished steak. When a steak is cut and the outside is exposed to oxygen, the meat will turn a bright red or ‘bloom’. If it’s not freshly cut, bright red indicates that the steak has been kept in an oxygen free environment like a vacuum bag. Supermarkets are leaders in ‘wet-ageing’, the process in which steaks are vacuum packed to keep them looking fresh.

Although its these factors that we mostly consider when buying meat, it’s also prudent to remember that great beef comes from animals that are grass-fed as nature intended, of a pure breed, free-range, at least two to preferably three years old and growth promoter free.

Don’t be afraid to do your research; ask questions from your supplier about how the meat was farmed, where it was farmed and how old it was at slaughter. If they can answer these questions and they’re open and give honest answers, then you know you’re in the right place.

The bottom line in our opinion, is to spend more on better quality meat and eat it less often. Tasty and good quality meat takes time and money to grow and rear, and will have been treated with much more respect than those which have been industrially farmed. Ultimately the resulting meat will be far tastier when cooked.

We’re fortunate enough to be able to visit a lot of farms throughout the UK, so we get to see first-hand the welfare standards, meet the farmers and ask all of the right questions. Only then, if we’re satisfied, do we buy. Whilst it might come down to the above factors, a lot of the time there’s really only one moral compass that we go by, and that’s from our own experience in working within this industry.