In the northernmost reaches of Japan lies an island names Hokkaido. It’s known as a sort of pilgrimage site for skiers and lovers of snow because over 50 inches of the white stuff falls on its stunning ski slopes every year.
Rolling tundras of snow and ice may not seem like the ideal place to produce some of Japans primo beef Wagyu but the sensei of steak Fujio Terauchi believes otherwise. Fujio Terauchi is the only person on the entire planet who produces the legendary Hokkaido Snow Beef and he raises his cattle and produces this rare type of Wagyu right there in the islands four foot plus of snow.
The Types of Wagyu And Why Snow Wagyu Is So Special
Wagyu is often thrown around as if it were a brand name for singular type of beef but it is actually an umbrella term for beef produced from four different breeds of cattle: Black, Brown, Polled, and shorthorn. The very best Wagyu, the best of the best comes from the Black breed. This includes the revered Kobe beef and Fujios Snow Wagyu.
Fujios cows are raised on a diet exclusively made up of sweet corn, which is another thing that Haikaido is famous for as it turns out, and it’s this mix of calorie-dense feed and frigid climate that makes the beef so special. The cattle grow a coat much thicker than any other breed which in turn promotes a specific type of fat dispersion.
Once the beef is cut from the cow it is aged for 30 days in a yukimuro which is a Japanese storehouse that is intentionally covered in Hokkaido snow. A Yukimuro maintains a stable "low-temperature, high humidity" condition, with the temperatures between 1 to 2 °C and around 90% humidity. This allows the meat to almost “wet-age” and brings out delicious sweetness and mellowness.
The benefits of Yukimuro storage over traditional refrigeration is just how stable it is. The temperature will remain between 1 to 2 °C and the humidity will not change throughout the year. There is no vibration as you would find in a general refrigerator, no temperature fluctuations, no intrusive light, and no unwanted dryness. This allows the beef to mature at a gentle pace totally undisturbed, not to mention the fact that this system uses no electricity so couldn’t be any more environmentally friendly.
Fujio has perfected the craft of using natural snow as a form of consistent cooling. In this pristine, humid, and extremely cold environment, the beef tenderises perfectly as oxygen breaks down the fibres.
Snow Wagyu only arrived on the international market in 2019 and only 13,000kg of it was produced. In the US alone the Wagyu import market was worth $39 million in 2020 which is a 136% increase on 2019. That number is expected to keep climbing as the demand for Wagyu grows and grows.
How Does Snow Wagyu Compare?
“Sweet, full of beefy flavour, and a tenderness that has to be experienced at least once in your life”
This elaborate process of raising rare cattle in such a demanding environment under extreme conditions will of course come at a price and while this steak may be easy on the palate, it's certainly not easy on the wallet.
If you order a half kilo boneless sirloin of Snow Wagyu in a steak house then you can expect to pay almost £300 for the privilege.
What a privilege it is though, the high humidity ageing process imparts a more subtle flavour than your typical dry ageing process and while extremely fatty meat like Snow Wagyu would usually coat the mouth with a rather unpleasant “stickiness”, the snow-ageing process produces in a steak that is “Sweet, full of beefy flavour, and a tenderness that has to be experienced at least once in your life” according to famed New York chef and restauranteur Jonathan Benno.
Snow Wagyu is on its way, it may not reach us this year or even next year but as the worlds appetite for Wagyu increases year on year, there will come a tipping point where the best becomes the standard.
It's at that point that specialities such as the legendary Snow Wagyu become the new pinnacle of meat and the new crown jewel on the steakhouse menu.