At a place known for mass production, Fremont Beef Company has entered a niche market so rare that most Americans will never taste it.
The company announced it has received the first shipment of certified Japanese Kobe Beef to the United States from Japan.
Japanese Wagyu Beef is considered very high quality, Fremont Beef president Les Leech explained, “and the very best is selected for Kobe.”
Up to now, certified Kobe Beef was exported by Japan only to Macau and Hong Kong in China. Fremont Beef is the only official agent in the United States certified to import Kobe Beef.
The Japanese government last year allowed the return of Japanese Wagyu Beef, including certified Kobe Beef, to the United States.
Genuine Kobe Beef can only come from true Tajima breed stock cattle that are raised and processed in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.
It is highly prized for its rich marbling of the fat due to a specific diet and breeding. Young calves are hand-selected to be finished as Kobe Beef. Their feed is a mixture of barley, corn, rice straw and other natural mixes. A secure supply of fresh, clean, cold water is also a must while raising the animal.
The customer base is premium restaurants.
“This is expensive,” Leech said, “so it’s not food, it’s entertainment.”
If someone were to purchase it as a steak, sales manager Laun Hinkle pointed out, that steak would cost about $200, “and it would be a small steak, probably 6 ounces.”
“It’s something that most of us in the Midwest can’t comprehend,” Leech said. “The people that will consume this are people that have a lot of money, and their viewpoint on spending money is different than the typical Midwesterner.”
Certification as Kobe by the Kobe Beef Distribution and Promotion Council, and that fact that only about 3,000 head of cattle per year are raised and processed in Kobe, Japan, leads to its higher cost.
“The volume is going to be pretty small,” Leech said. “This is very expensive, very high quality. It’s beef that the majority of the people in the United States has never tasted, so it’s cool just to be able to taste it. It is much different than U.S. beef. This is buttery tasting, it’s fork tender, it’s unbelievable.”
“The cooking is different with this,” Hinkle explained. “It’s basically just seared on the outside in small pieces. The searing locks in the fat and the juices of the meat.”
“And the fat is actually a different composition than U.S. beef fat,” Leech added. “It is more unsaturated than U.S. beef fat, so actually it’s a little bit healthier. It’s softer too, so it has a lower melting point.”
“We’re primarily distributing it,” he said. “Some customers might want it cut up into steaks, smaller portions, and we’ll do that, but that’s pretty minimal.
“For the most part,” he said, “the customers will buy the whole strip loin, they’ll buy the whole rib eye, the whole tenderloin, and then they’ll cut it up at their restaurants for their own different dishes.”
“Our first shipment will be distributed in the New York and New Jersey area with a few pieces heading to distributors on the West Coast,” Hinkle said.
Fremont Beef, whose parent company is S Foods of Japan, has handled Japanese Wagyu Beef in the past, “but this is the first time we’ve ever handled authentic Kobe Beef,” Leech said.
Fremont Beef Company, a processing plant founded in Fremont in 1990, exports pork and beef products to Japan and other countries. The company also distributes to both coasts in the United States.
The Kobe Beef line “is a real small percentage of our business,” Leech said.
“Basically we’re not going to manufacture anything, it will be distribution and sales, so eventually, if we’re successful, we’ll need more sales force, and it will involve more distributors in the Midwest and the whole United States.”