Blake Hansen loves beef, but admits he is quite particular about the quality of meat he chooses to consume. So, when he sampled a steak he could cut with a spoon, he was hooked.
“It’s like butter,” he told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier .
The beef he sampled is called wagyu, and some say it’s the finest beef in the world. One of four brothers with Hansen’s Dairy Farm in Hudson, Hansen quickly got to work acquiring the rare breed for his farm.
Wagyu meat has an extreme marbling, boasts health benefits and a “melt in your mouth” level of tenderness.
“(The full-bred wagyu) was good, but it was just too rich for me. It’s pretty powerful stuff,” he said. “I could only eat maybe 4 to 5 ounces.”
With more than 150 Holstein dairy cattle outside his front door, Hansen decided to cross-breed his Holstein dairy cattle, which also are known for their fine marbling, with a wagyu.
“It turned out to be fantastic,” he said.
The prepared beef is available exclusively at the Table 1912 restaurant in Cedar Falls.
Chef Jim Nadeau of the Western Home Communities was one of Hansen’s first customers when the retail stores opened in 2014. At Table 1912, the chefs have a “Farm to Fork” program where they use as much food from area farmers as possible.
“We need to be unique here in order to draw people in, and it’s a special product,” Nadeau said. “For us to be the first place in Iowa to be able to use it basically right from farm to fork is phenomenal.”
Hansen recently rolled out the Cedar Valley’s first Holstein-Wagyu hamburger at Hansen’s retail stores in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, with the rest of the cuts available for sale privately through Hansen. For those daring enough to try the full-flavored Wagyu, the full-bred beef will be ready near the end of 2019.
Costs for the Wagyu-Holstein beef vary from $100 for a one-pound filet down to $8 for one pound of hamburger. Full-bred Japanese Wagyu beef can cost anywhere from $120 to $200.
Pronounced “wag-you,” the larger and meatier breed is derived from Japan. “Wa” can be translated as Japanese, and “gyu” means cow, according to the American Wagyu Association.
The wagyu breed came to the U.S. in the 1980s. Hansen said monitoring the rare breed in the U.S. can be difficult, but some say there are less than 30,000 full-blood wagyu in the United States.
Hansen was able to purchase reproductive material from the Tajima strain from Japan, which are fattened longer, taking about 26 to 32 months to create the supreme marbling. Other U.S. beef cattle can take only 18 months to mature for consumption.
“Supposedly this Tajima line is one of the best Wagyu lines in the breed,” Hansen said.
A Holstein also creates a fair amount of marbling and requires a similar low-energy diet. While still boasting the wagyu’s rich flavor, the Wagyu-Holstein crossbreeds produce a more palpable taste.
Wagyu has three times the amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids compared to other beef breeds, meaning it’s higher in unsaturated fat and oleic acid, which is said to be responsible for the rich flavor. Oleic acid also is found in olive and canola oil and, according to reports, can help lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Typically, wagyu breeders will send the high-end quality cuts to the east and west coasts, Hansen said, but he plans to keep all of the meat in Iowa.
“I’d like to keep everything here in the state, let alone the Cedar Valley, just to have people around us enjoy good cuts of meat and not getting rid of it to the coasts.”
Hansen said the best way to cook a Wagyu-Holstein steak or burger is rare to medium rare at about 135 degrees.
“You can definitely taste a difference when you’re eating it in a patty,” said Hansen’s wife, Jordan. “Other seasonings can dull the rich flavor.”
Jordan Hansen said she considers the hamburger to be 90 percent lean.
“If you over cook it, it’s like any other hamburger then, there’s nothing special to it because it gets dry and loses the flavor,” she said.
Hansen said he is unsure how popular the beef will be in the Cedar Valley, but he plans to continue breeding and raising the special cattle well into the future.
“Being that it takes 30 months to get one raised and ready for slaughter, you just don’t want to stop now because if the consumer likes what they eat, then they’re going to have to wait for another 30 months before they get another one,” he said. “There’s going to be a continuum of Wagyu-Holstein cattle coming down the pipe from here on out. . I know that I’ll be eating some good quality meat for the rest of my life. If you are a beef eater, you are going to want to try it at least once.”