THERE'S a lot more to Wagyu beef than the Wagyu name, writes GEMMA GADD
Chew on this: tonight you can dine at Melbourne's Rockpool restaurant and pay $110 for a Wagyu steak.Tomorrow night it's $7.95 for Subway's 100 per cent Australian Wagyu six-inch sub.
They are both red, but so is Cottee's raspberry cordial and Grange Hermitage.
And there's the rub.
They are each brand-specific, but Wagyu has suddenly been hoisted on its own generic petard - and not all Wagyu is created equally.
Wagyu translates as "Japanese cattle" and, to qualify as such in Japan, must be fullblood. That is, beef from a Japanese Black Wagyu that has not had any other breed introduced into its bloodlines.
The Australian Wagyu Association defines fullblood Wagyu as "the offspring of a Wagyu sire and a Wagyu dam whose forebears originate from Japan and whose pedigrees show no evidence of any grading up from the base animals".
Yet, crucially, that distinction between fullblood, purebred and crossbred Wagyu is not made in Australian markets.
And nor does it have to be.
More than 95 per cent of Australian Wagyu is, in fact, purebred Wagyu (F4), or crossbred (F1, F2 and F3). But these can never be bred up to become fullblood.
Beef from crossbred or purebred Wagyu animals also represents the largest market for beef in Japan - but is both priced and marketed as such.
Breeders here who have invested a lot of time, money and effort in creating an Australian fullblood market at the high end of the food service and boutique butcher industries are quietly gnashing their teeth.
Blackmore Wagyu's David Blackmore said for every call to his business from agricultural publications, he received 10 from "foodie" magazines.
And if that's where the market was, then it's more important than ever the product was promoted accurately, he said.
Blackmore Wagyu has featured on Rockpool's menu for several years at $550/kg - and up to a staggering $1000/kg recently at nearby Nobu.
Blackmore markets its product as 100 per cent fullblood Wagyu. Every one of its animals can be traced, through its genetics, back to Japan.
"I've no issue with Subway marketing Wagyu, as long as the consumer knows what they are buying," Mr Blackmore said.
"But, as it stands, they don't know what they are buying.
"Really fine-dining Wagyu is fullblood and there are very few people in Australia producing fullblood carcasses.
"Ninety-five per cent of the beef produced in Australia that is called Wagyu is crossbred."
If a product came from an F1 animal, meaning Wagyu is one of, but not the predominant breed, is it right to market it as Wagyu?
That's a good question, he said.
"A lot of beef marketed in Australia is 50 per cent Wagyu - an F1 crossbred. It's also the biggest beef market in Japan, but there it is not allowed to be called Wagyu and then people know what they are buying," Mr Blackmore said.
"No one is breaking any rules, but if somebody pays $110 for a fullblood Wagyu steak at Rockpool, then pays $35 at their local pub for a crossbred Wagyu steak, they'll be disappointed, because it's a different product.
"I've no problem with Subway producing their product, just with the labelling issues, which need to be addressed."
The suppliers of Subway's Wagyu beef, Queensland's Jack's Creek Wagyu, produce purebred Wagyu; cattle bred up from an Angus base using centuries-old (Japanese) Tajima bloodlines.
The beef for Subway's products is independently, third-party verified - a first in Australia, according to Jack's Creek marketing manager Patrick Warmoll.
Although Jack's Creek Wagyu was also marketed in high-end export markets, Mr Warmoll explained that Subway was a good fit for Jack's Creek and provided invaluable exposure for all breeders.
"This can only benefit Wagyu breeders, processors and distributors because more people have exposure to it and will demand it," Mr Warmoll said.
"The opportunities will exist where the supplier and end-user can apply this increased awareness of Wagyu beef to offer progressive Wagyu products depending on grade and market suitability. Wagyu beef is more than just a breed, it's a mark of quality."
Ballan's Sher Wagyu produces premium fullblood and first cross Wagyu, predominantly for export to Japan where the latter is marketed as crossbred. Principal Nick Sher believes promoting Wagyu through a fast-food chain has its pros and cons.
"It's not a good thing for Wagyu to be promoted through a fast-food outlet," he said.
It cheapened the image, he added. "But on the other hand, in the market we sell in, people are beginning to understand different brands.
"Wagyu is a generic term for Wagyu beef of varying grades of cuts and quality, and if anyone expects to be getting top-quality Wagyu beef in a fast-food outlet, then they don't understand Wagyu and what it's about."
He said while most Subway customers were unlikely to understand the varying types of Wagyu beef, most would accept you get what you pay for.
"People have got to realise there's Wagyu and there's Wagyu; it's like wine, there are different brands and varieties," he explained.