For starters, what’s Wagyu? The word itself means "Japanese cow," and it’s the name given to cattle breeds developed in Japan. There are four breeds of Japanese cattle that can be called Wagyu, but the Kuroge-washu breed (or Japanese Black) stands apart for its genetic predisposition to create finely grained, intramuscular marbling for extreme tenderness and umami succulence.
Starting in 1975, Japan began selling Kuroge-washu cattle to buyers in America and beyond, introducing the breed’s supreme marbling, tenderness and flavor to the world. However, just a few decades later, in 1997, that the Japanese government banned the exportation of Kuroge-washu cattle, preserving one of the nation’s finest commodities.
That short period of Wagyu trade made way for non-Japanese farmers to breed Fullblood, Purebred and Crossbred Wagyu. Since not many Kuroge-washu cattle made their way into the United States in that 22-year window, domestic breeding programs today are carefully tracked and cattle registered to confirm their authenticity as American Wagyu.
Fullblood Wagyu are known as 100% Genetically Pure, traceable to Japanese herds with no evidence of crossbreeding. These cattle are the offspring of a bull and cow whose forebears originate from Japan.
Purebred Wagyu contains more than 93.75% pure Japanese Wagyu genetics. These cattle are the offspring of a Fullblood bull and a Crossbred cow. Our farm partner, Ed Gross of Hutterian Farms raises Purebred Wagyu in addition to the Hutterites' Angus herd.
So, the difference between Fullblood and Purebred Wagyu is only about 7% of their genetics. That percentage difference is fairly minimal at that level of purity, particularly in comparison to Crossbred Wagyu with 50% or less Kuroge-washu genetics.
Still, genetics are only one factor behind great-tasting beef. Different climates, feeds and ranching practices — just as a few examples — create variation in beef.
Provided that the animal was raised in a stress-free environment with plenty to eat, the better you'll see its signature marbling and experience its intense flavor. It’s why we find it especially important to visit and vet the Wagyu ranches we partner with to see how their animals live — to ensure the best practices for the highest-quality, most-genuine cuts.
Apart from surveying the conditions in which the animals are raised, we also verify each cattle's lineage— recall the careful tracking and registration mentioned above? That's how we know that one ranch offers Fullblood Wagyu, while another offers Purebred Wagyu.
We currently offer cuts from all three breeds, because they’re each exceptional in their own respect. The differences in genetic design, though potentially only slight, impact the beef itself and provide a place of comparison for Wagyu aficionados.
The closer to 100% Kuroge-washu, the more you'll taste the sweet umami flavors associated with the breed. Those sweet umami flavors are indicative of real Wagyu — from Japanese A5 to a world of Purebred and Fullblood, you'll recognize these unique flavors from the very first bite.
In contrast, beef from Crossbred Wagyu-Angus varieties won’t have that unique, umami kick. Instead, Wagyu-Angus beef carries robust Angus flavors. We say Wagyu-Angus cross cuts are "Angus, elevated," since this beef features elements from each breed but not that signature Wagyu flavor profile.
Different farmers follow different ranching protocols, but raising Wagyu generally means that ranchers will follow specific practices for their special cattle. This means specialized animal husbandry skills, expert genetic understanding and an intense investment in the outcome.
It’s hard work that goes into raising a specific breed like Wagyu and, for us, that hard work really solidifies these ranchers as the epitome of craft beef.