Kobe beef is not so much made but rather produced or raised in specific conditions in Japan that over time have contributed to a unique texture, taste and marbling. Kobe beef is widely praised for its tenderness, flavor and high quality fatty marbled appearance.
The beef is “made” according to strict Japanese government guidelines that regulate the term Kobe beef and refers to Wagyu beef born and slaughtered from the Hyogo prefecture. True Kobe beef isn't exported out of Japan, so the American Kobe-style beef seen on menus is from a crossbreed of Japanese Wagyu and Black Angus.
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Kobe is the namesake capital city of the Hyogo prefecture in Japan, to which the black Japanese cattle or Wagyu derives its name. It is in this prefecture that Wagyu cattle, known as Tajima have been raised and selectively bred for over 2,000 years. Wagyu cattle are not native to Japan. They were originally introduced to Japan and used as draft cattle. The breed was chosen for its ability to withstand physical endurance.
Because there aren’t a lot of wide open pastures and the terrain is relatively mountainous, the breed developed at a slower rate with a smaller frame and rather large forequarters and lighter hindquarters. These physical attributes have resulted in very high quality meat considered the finest beef in the world.
Isolation on the Japanese islands and distinct feeding techniques resulted in bloodlines that developed and maintained qualities in Wagyu meat that differ significantly from all other breeds of cattle. During the hot summer months the cattle are fed beer while their muscles are rubbed with sake to prevent soreness from the lack of paddocks to freely graze. This original diet, handling and isolation has over time developed a far superior meat.
The unique characteristics, such as the abundance of marbling, is believed to be the result of softer skin, which in turn produces more tender meat. According to Dr. Jerry Reeves of Washington State University, evidence indicates that the marbling in Wagyu beef contributes markedly not only to tenderness and juiciness but also to taste.