When I met the makers of the best wagyu Beef in the world

The custom spatula designed by Hiroki Ito. Hiroki is a key figure in the export of Matsusaka Beef from Japan to Europe and the rest of the world.

This is one of the reasons I really love my job. Besides the fact that I give my patients the ultimate gift – Nourish the body from the root and the solution for Diabetes,

There are rare moments when I get to be a part of real history – a history of a long-standing tradition that is changing its face, for the better.

What’s more satisfying than that? It is truly a dream come true.

As I wrote in previous blog post – I was invited by the organizers of the Anuga 2023 fair in Cologne, Germany as a journalist guest of the fair.

We are talking about the largest food industries fair in the world.

I was lucky enough to be there with the Matsusaka farmers- the farmers that in charge of the best wagyu beef in the world. What they are doing is truly an art, like everything in Japan. Ancient wisdom of raising cattle, with dedication that only the Japanese know, generations upon generations. These are the same breeders, somewhere in the mountains in Japan in the city of Matsusaka, who work day after day, every day and all year round, to produce the best beef on the planet. Wisdom that passes from father to son (mainly fathers and sons but not only) for generations, just like in the story of Hiroki Ito from “Ito Ranch”. The same breeders are responsible for all this magic that begins years before the tender steak meets the diner’s palate, a very strict process that begins at the birth of the calf (even before birth) and continues throughout the adult cow’s life. Every parameter is taken into account and tested very carefully: the food, the soil, the well-being and even the mood of the cow.

Tomer Pappe in Anuga with Ignasi Elias, Kunio Kozaka and the representative of the Japanese regional Cattle Association
From left to right: Ignasi Elias, Tomer Pappe, Kunio Kosaka (partner of Hiroki Ito) and the representative of the Japanese regional Cattle Association.

The key figure in our story is Hiroki Ito, third generation of Matsusaka breeders’ family, a true royalty in terms of Japanese wagyu.

At the conference in Anuga, I spoke with Hiroki Ito’s right-hand man, Kunio Kosaka, together with another equally important figure in our story, the story of bringing Matsusaka beef to Spain and Europe: Ignasi Elias- the Spanish partner of Ito Ranch. Ignasi told me in our conversation: “This is the only steak in the world that needs a spatula to remove it from the grill. Attached here a photo of the custom spatula designed by Hiroki Ito (at the top of the article). Attached also a photo of the entire cut at a price tag of 5,000 Euros per kg with the official Matsusaka Beef sticker (at the bottom of the cut) and the official Ito Ranch sticker (at the top of the cut).”

Ignasi is married to Chiho Murata and they live together in Barcelona. Chiho , as Japanese speaker and due to her familiarity with Japanese culture, responsible for the close ties with the Matsusaka farmers and she is an integrate part of the relations with Hiroki Ito from “Ito Ranch”. Together she and Ignasi are responsible for making the best quality (and probably also the most expensive) beef in the world, available to the guests of the high-end restaurants in Spain and in Europe.

Ito Ranch Wagyu
The official cut of Ito Farms with an official stamp of Matsusaka Beef. Priced at 5,000 Euros per kg.

Table of contents:

So for those of you who haven’t heard yet: the Japanese Matsusaka producers decided in a dramatic decision after 70 years to open their doors and to export their beef outside of Japan. For the first time in history, the best meat in the world – wagyu of the Matsusaka is available outside of Japan.

Did you know: there is also ranking between the different kinds of wagyu in Japan?

For example: Ōmi Beef is ranked third place, Kobe beef is ranked second (Ōmi beef is third sometimes, and Yonezawa beef is third sometimes),

and in the first place? The Matsusaka! In a strict ranking that takes into account every parameter: methods of breeding, the food the cattle are fed with, ratio of fat, marbling and a lot more.

Matsusaka wagyu:

Matsusaka beef is meat from Japanese black cattle raised in harsh conditions in the area of the city of Matsusaka in the Mie Prefecture of Japan. Matsusaka has a high fat-to-meat ratio. Within Japan, Matsusaka is one of the Sanday wagyū (“Sandai” means “Big Three” and Sandai wagyū means “The Big Three wagyūs), the main ones are also Kobe beef and Yonezawa Umi beef.

About 2500 cows are slaughtered in Matsusaka every year and it is the meat that is priced the highest in the world.

Matusaka grass fed beef
Black cattle in Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture, Japan.

From a brief examination it seems that the Israelis are less interested in Matsusaka. The last article in which the term Matsusaka was mentioned was published in YNET in 2004.

So as a continuation of my journey to Anuga fair,

I interviewed Chiho Murata – the wife of Ignasi Elias and the woman figure behind the importation of Matsusaka to Spain and to Europe, and specifically the one in the spotlights that speaks to us, the international community about the historical move.

It couldn’t get more exciting for me.

Chiho Murata
Chiho Murata.

The full Chiho Murata interview :

1. How in the first place did you get to work with wagyu beef and particularly Matsusaka beef?

Chiho Murata– We started working with wagyū in 2014. Our aim is to bring outside of Japan the best sumibiyaki experience Japan can offer and you can’t accomplish that without wagyū. Then in 2023 we have been lucky enough to be the first company to ever import the best wagyū in Japan, Matsusaka Beef.

2. Do you think that we are witnessing “History in the making”- the fact that Ito Ranch and the local growers decided to export Matsusaka outside of Japan?

Chiho Murata– No one outside of Japan’s heard of Matsusaka Beef before, simply because it was never exported. Japan jealousy kept it all for himself like a national treasure. Then the pandemic came to change 60 years of history. Sales dropped dramatically and a voting within the Matsusaka Beef Association took place in November 2022 to approve the entry as a member of a foreign country for the first time, Akaneya Group. As a consequence, Japan’s Government lifted the ban on exports and here we are, serving Matsusaka Beef in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid.

3. What makes Matsusaka stand out from the rest of the wagyu beef?

Chiho Murata– The melting point. Matsusaka Beef melts at 17ºC, while Kobe Beef and other wagyū melt at 20ºC and 25ºC, respectively. This is partially because Matsusaka Beef cows are only virgin female calves and have a longer fattening period, from 30 to 32 months, as compared to Kobe Beef (29 to 30 months) and other wagyū (25 months). The cost of producing Matsusaka Beef is 16% more expensive than Kobe Beef.

Moreover, the average cost of breeding cows at Ito Ranch is 33% higher than at any other Matsusaka Beef farm, and 56% higher than Kobe Beef.

4. What parameters are being checked when rating wagyu beef in Japan?

Chiho Murata– The Japan Meat Grading Association (JMGA) does that job. They observe the meat yield (A, B or C) , the quality grade (1 to 5), and the Beef Marbling Standard (0 to 12). For the quality grade they observe these four factors: “Marbling”, “Firmness and softness”, “Meat color” and “Fat quality and color”. It needs to score a 5/5 on each factor in order to get a 5. The best final grade you can get is A5 BMS12.

5. Ito Ranch owner belongs to a heritage of a family owned business and he is 3rd generation to that unique farm- You think that this is Ito’s “X factor”? Family history?

Chiho Murata- The X factor is a combination of factors. Hiroki Ito is the only farmer breeding cows for more than 35 months, which requires mastering many breeding techniques to ensure that the cows don’t contract myocardial infarction or fatal necrosis, to name some common conditions in cattle. Also, and most importantly, Hiroki Ito spends most of his time traveling around Japan in search of the perfect calf. You need very good eyes and instinct to analyze the calf’s face, forehead, eyes, horns, nose, back, and hindquarters. And there’s his family secret feed formula and the farm’s stress-free environment.

6. Will we see Matsusaka in the European market? Will it be just a high end dining food?

Chiho Murata– Now you can only find Ito Ranch from Matsusaka Beef in our three restaurants, Marie Akaneya in Paris, Carlota Akaneya in Barcelona, and Pilar Akaneya in Madrid. However, it’s expected that other restaurants and shops will import Matsusaka Beef from April next year.

7. Where exactly will it be possible to eat Matsusaka beef in Spain and in Europe?

Chiho Murata– Other than our own restaurants, we can’t say.

8. Will we also see Matsusaka Beef in restaurants outside of Europe? Across the middle east and Israel as well?

Chiho Murata– It’s now open to export to everywhere around the world. Ito Ranch is now exporting to Europe, Singapore, Taiwan, UAE and the US. I can’t say whether it will be imported to Israel. We are in charge of the European market only.

9. How do you see the future of Matsusaka in Japan? Will it stay an “oasis” of family owned and grown meat?

Chiho Murata– I think it’s going to increase its market value. Internationalization will shorten supply in Japan and will increase the price. However, that’s a question for Hiroki Ito. Last Monday November 13, an Ito Ranch cow sold for a record 44.000 € at the annual Matsusaka Beef Carcass Contest that takes place in Tokyo every year to determine the best cow of the year. The specimen presented by Ito Ranch reached an auction value of 7,197,879 Japanese yen, establishing a new historical record for the contest. The previous record, set in 2016, was 5,795,712 yen.

10. Do you think the fact that Matsusaka is now open to export will affect its quality in the future, considering that it might demand the local farmers such as Ito Ranch to increase their quantities?

Chiho Murata– I think it’s quite the opposite. Hiroki Ito’s life goal and determination is to produce the ultimate meat. And now the world is looking.

Hiroki Ito and Chiho Murata
Chiho Murata together with Hiroki Ito.
Ito Ranch's Wagyu of Matsusaka
Ignasi Elias, the Spanish partner of Ito Ranch: “This is the only cut in the world that needs a spatula to remove it from the grill”
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