Olive Wagyu is one of the rarest steaks and considered the highest quality meat on the planet. It's produced by only a few farmers in the Kagawa Prefecture of Japan. Wagyu simply means Japanese cattle. There are four different breeds. One of the four is called Kuroge Washu which has now become known as Olive Wagyu. Kuroge Washu is already genetically predisposed to high levels of marbling in its wagyu steak, but one cow farmer took it to the next level in 2006.
A cattle farmer on Shodoshima Island named Masaki Ishii started testing different methods of toasting the leftover olive pulp from olive oil production on the island. He had an idea that if he could get his cows to eat the olive feed (made of olive oils, ricestraw, and rye grass) the healthy oleic acid from the olives might carry over into the meat, making almost a super steak with major health benefits.
First, he tried feeding one of his cows raw olive pulp. They didn't like the bitter taste. So he kept working on the cow feed taste and ended up using an ancient method of drying persimmons! He left the olive "lees" (spent olives similar to spent grapes in winemaking) out on rocks by the shore and waited for them to toast. It took 3 years to get this ancient technique right but when he did, the cows gobbled up the sweet and malty olive feed.
And when Masaki Ishii butchered those first olive-fed Wagyu cows, he saw the effect that special feed had on the meat. It had very high levels of oleic acid which is a heart healthy fat. Higher than any other Japanese Wagyu, even higher than the famous Kobe beef. There was 65.2% in monounsaturated oleic acid and a bold umami flavor with a melt in your mouth texture.
The Kuroge Washu breed is the only breed that is fed this special olive feed. This diet and the breed's genetics make that fine grained marbling beef with the world's highest level of healthy fat content of monounsaturated fats.
Why Is It So Rare and Expensive?
Olive Wagyu is the smallest herd of the four breeds of Wagyu cattle. Only 2200 Olive Wagyu animals are in existence, and just a few are butchered per month, making it the rarest beef on the earth.
Cattle raising began in Kagawa Prefecture around the year 700, when cows were used only for their strength. It wasn't until 1872, when Emperor Meiji lifted the ban on meat-eating, that farmers in Kagawa Prefecture started using cattle for meat. Once the cows had more relaxed lives, they made for more tender marbled meat.
This Japanese beef became sought after in Tokyo and other areas of Japan But because of its distance from ports, it was not easy to get outside of Japan.
The History of Olives in Japan
In 1908, the Japanese government sent olive-tree seedlings all over Japan to test whether the fruit could be cultivated.They didn't grow well except for in one magical place. The only place olives thrived in all of Japan was on a small, cow-shaped island in Kagawa Prefecture called Shodoshima Island. There was the mild climate of the Seto Inland Sea which kept the trees warm. A small olive-oil industry popped up too. Bottled olive oil was exported and the the leftover olive mash (the mash that was rejected by the Olive Wagyu originally) was thrown away.
Location Location Location
So even though the small amount of cattle farmers on Shodoshima Island had this delicious high quality Wagyu Beef to sell, the island location made it difficult to ship anywhere. There were no ports close enough to make it work. This is where the American company Crowd Cow comes into the picture.
Crowd Cow Brought Olive Wagyu To America
In 2017, Crowd Cow began importing the Wagyu beef from Mirai Farm, which is based in Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan to American customers. Crowd Cow's co-founder, Joe Heitzeberg, visited Wagyu farmers, Wagyu farms, and butcher shops to learn all about wagyu. It helps that he minored in Japanese at the University of Washington, making communication much easier.
Crowd Cow is the largest single importer and online seller of Wagyu beef, including Olive Wagyu. Because of Crowd Cow's creation, for the first time ever, American customers can get this super beef direct.
Wagyu in the News
Olive Wagyu won the "Best Fat Quality" award in 2017 during the Wagyu Olympics. This unique competition is held every five years.
To promote the Wagyu beef's availability on their website, Crowd Cow has done some interesting marketing. They've written articles, made videos, and posted Instagram quotes, but the most quirky was a haiku competition. The winner won a Japanese knife.
Imported Japanese Wagyu is not without controversy and pushback, though. The James Beard Foundation Award-winning author Adam Danforth entered that haiku contest, taking a stand in favor or American Cattle. Or should I say American Wagyu?
The Best Beef
Is Found On American Farmland.
Vote With Your Money.
Nicely played, Adam Danforth. Nicely played.