efe-epaBy Branden Luis Figarola Montevideo

In Uruguay, a country that has its own tradition of barbecue, efforts are being made to turn the most demanding of palates onto Japanese "Wagyu" beef and kick off a new culinary trend.

Some farmers in the Latin American nation already rear the particular breed of cattle, but for exporting to other countries.

This year the government established an agreement with Japan to import the high-quality meat from Kagoshima in order to try and encourage a "new culinary culture," according to Masashi Kato, the president of imports and exports company Aichi Uruguay.

"We want to be the transporters of a new culinary culture in Uruguay," Kato told Efe in an interview, adding that it was a "new food art" that was not about satisfying the stomach but about pleasing the palate.

Kato drew comparisons with the way soy sauce, a product of which just enough is imported to satisfy demand, was introduced to the Latin American country.

"30 years ago soy sauce was not on supermarket shelves. We want it to be a bit like that. Bring a new thing, let the people get to know a new culinary culture that isn't here (in Uruguay)," he said.

URUGUAYAN WAGYU

Fourteen years ago, a cattle farm in western Uruguay, whose owners did not wish to be identified, imported embryos from Australia and crossed the Wagyu genes with Angus females.

The farm's producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the crossing process increases the animal's Wagyu purity percentage to "full blood."

The breed is slaughtered young, weighing 700 kilos and having spent a minimum of 380 days grazing, the expert said. The process is the same when it comes to the Angus and Hereford breeds, which are also raised in Uruguay.

According to the producer, the import of Wagyu embryos for crossing allowed the farm to sell for prices above 50 percent of those of a regular cow and encouraged other producers to get into the business.

The pieces of meat are exported to China, other South America countries - Brazil and Chile - and Europe, he said.

AUTHENTIC JAPANESE MEAT

According to the Kagoshima Meat Export Federation, the rearing of Wagyu cattle in Japan is carried out using advanced farming techniques and with a lot of care. Because of this, Japanese experts talk about "authentic Japanese meat" when referring to the variety.

Kato told Efe that the term "Wagyu" can only be applied to animals that are "reared in Japan," because the environment is "completely different" when it comes to the landscape and the way in which the cattle are reared.

As a result, if a cow was born outside of the Asian country it cannot be considered "pure" or a "true Japanese cow."

According to "kanji" - Japan's writing system - "Wa" means harmony and Japanese, while "gyu" means cow, and so together "Wagyu" means "Japanese cow."

Kato was unable to say how much Wagyu was worth in Uruguay, with negotiations still in the process of being registered with the National Meat Institute (INAC), but he said there would not be a "fixed price" as it depends on the cut.

A butcher in Montevideo, Beef House, buys Wagyu from a farm in Tacuarembó and sells a kilo of flank and rump steaks at approximately 1,200 pesos ($34) for either cut.

According to a spokesperson for the store, most customers who buy the meat are from abroad.

WAGYU IN A BBQ-LOVING NATION

The minister of livestock, agriculture and fisheries, Enzo Benech, told Efe that Japan and Uruguay can complement each other and both varieties of the meat can coexist.

But doubt lingers over the Japanese beef as it is not cooked on the grill - Uruguay’s traditional style of cooking.

Kato said Wagyu involves another type of preparation and that portion sizes are not comparable. "Here it's common for each person to eat 300-400 grams of striploin, but with Wagyu definitely not.

"You're not going to be able to eat it because it's another kind of meat," he said.

The expert said local chefs needed to learn how the meat is prepared in Japan or create a new dish to avoid serving Wagyu as part of Uruguay's typical cuisine.

The "marbling" of this meat, specifically the muscle fibers that create a pale pink tone, its taste and juiciness are highly prized in the world of foodies. EFE-EPA

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