Imperial Kobe Beef vs. Wild Rose Beef
Imperial Kobe Beef versus Wild Rose Beef
The age-old pursuit of finding the best tasting beef has driven chefs and foodies to travel, import, and explore the world over. While many think high cost must have a direct link to better quality, this theory usually does play true in the food world. For the most part, you do get what you pay for in terms of quality, selection, and creativity. I set out to conduct a blind taste test with a small group of food enthusiasts to settle the score. In the fight for best beef I selected two obvious opponents, Imperial Japanese Kobe Beef and Wild Rose Alberta Beef. Using strip loins that share similar thickness and ageing I set out to settle the score in black tie style.
Every Canadian knows one of Alberta’s greatest exports and contribution to the world is its beef, or if they don’t, they should. There are distinctly different practices used to raise cattle all over the globe. In Alberta, calves once weaned from their mothers are back-lotted, a practice that refers to a young calf given a forage diet in pasture. This results in a happy mobile ‘free range’ cow, low feeding cost, and an incredible rate of natural growth. By allowing the animal to move around naturally the meat develops a richer flavor. Once the cow reaches the desired weight they are moved to the finishing stage in the feedlot. The animal’s diet is drastically changed to almost exclusively grain to jump start growth and develop the best possible marbling. Many feedlots outside of Alberta, like in the U.S., finish cattle on corn. Corn is a less expensive readily available feed that produces a flavorless and yellowish cut of meat.
Over 90 percent of beef produced in Alberta achieves A, AA, AAA or higher grade. This fact is absolutely astonishing and a testament to the developing farming practices in the province. In Canada, an AAA Alberta strip loin costs approximately $19 per pound from the local butcher.
Kobe cattle refer to the specific breed Wagyu, raised in Hyogo, Japan. Kobe beef is strictly regulated from its lineage, its feed, where it’s raised, plus how and where it is slaughtered. These tight restrictions and practices result in an incredibly well-marbled and flavored meat. Farmers in Hyogo, Japan feed their cattle strictly grain and the animals are brushed on a regular base to settle the fur. Due to the lack of grazing land in the valley the cattle are unable to get proper exercise, which has changed the genetic characteristics in the cattle, thus creating an extremely well marbled animal. Also, because of the lack of exercise, the cows must be massaged to prevent soreness and loss of appetite. Believing that soft skin produces more tender meat, workers also rub Wagyu cows with sake or Japanese rice wine. As champagne must come from Champagne, France to be referred to as champagne, Kobe beef must come from Hyogo, Japan. Due to the restrictions, plus tight import laws, getting your hands on actual Kobe is almost impossible in North America and if you do, it is extremely expensive unless you have the right connections in the food industry.
Incredible practices and isolation have resulted in this unique animal, unlike any other cattle, producing rich, well-marbled beef higher in grade then AAA or prime. These particular strip loin steaks came at the extravagant coast of $76 per pound, plus a few personal favors.
We began the black tie evening with cocktails, discussing the facts of each animal and the different practices used in raising them. We talked about that the way the meat may look and the possible differences in fat content. Once we were well into conversation and cocktails the anticipation grew to a tipping point. I served fresh Atlantic lobster risotto to start my guests’ palates. The risotto was rich in texture each adored by a piece of lobster claw or tail. Accompanied by bottles of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, it was an incredible tease that almost had every one forgetting about the main event.
The steaks had been set on the counter in the kitchen seasoned with simple salt and pepper warming to room temperature and the grill heating. I excused myself to complete the meal knowing the blind taste test was about to begin. Each steak was grilled to perfection medium rare so that there would be no difference in the cooking process. Then the steaks were sliced on different cutting boards to prevent cross contamination of taste. Each plate had Kobe beef placed on the left A and Alberta beef on the right B. Dividing the main course was a vegetable medley and spring mixed potatoes, both abundant in colour and flavor. With no one other then I knowing which strip loin was which, the plates were taken into the dining room and put before my eager guest judges.
Advising Beef A is on to the left and Beef B to the right, we began to enjoy our meal appreciating each bite, our palates exploring the differences between the two. I paired the beef with a bold Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia. The wine was selected deliberately to draw out the natural rich flavors in the beef. Many made the observation that A, the Kobe, was very well-marbled and had a rich subtle flavor with hints of grain, grass, and almonds. B, the Alberta product was said to be more vibrant in taste, less marbled with hints of grass, sweet sugar cane, and lemon zest. The conversation and wine continued throughout the dining experience until everyone was ready to cast their vote.
The verdict was one for A and six for B. Alberta beef had won this contest almost unanimously. Our incredible evening came to a close with a certain and clear answer. Chefs and farmers all over Canada can be proud to produce and serve Alberta beef, the best in the world, which comes at a fraction of the price of Kobe. Undoubtedly, my guest had a night they were thrilled to be a part of and soon won’t forget. Laine Valin