Olive wagyu, one of the world's rarest steaks, commands a price tag of over $500 per pound, making it one of the most expensive meats available. The unique feeding technique of offering wagyu cows a diet infused with olives distinguishes this delicacy from other wagyu cuts. While the steak's current price may seem extravagant, its journey from humble beginnings unveils the reasons behind its exclusivity and high cost. Let's explore what sets Olive wagyu apart and why it has become a coveted luxury.
The Olive-Fed Difference:
On Shodoshima Island in Japan's Inland Sea, Masaki Ishi has been raising cattle for half a century. Once renowned for its azuki beans, the island gained fame as the home of Japan's oldest olive groves after olive trees were introduced from Greece over a century ago. Wagyu beef is already celebrated for its intense marbling and elevated levels of oleic acid, which contribute to its exceptional tenderness and flavor. Seeking to enhance these qualities further, Masaki aimed to produce wagyu beef even richer in oleic acid. His innovative approach involved using olive pomace, a byproduct of olive oil production, as feed. This allowed him to repurpose waste from one of Shodoshima's thriving industries.
The Craftsmanship of Olive Wagyu:
Olive pomace contains residual oil, but drying it is a labor-intensive and costly process. Masaki dedicated nearly six years to perfecting this technique, ensuring the olive pomace feed met the highest standards. Unlike traditional wagyu cattle, which are typically processed at 24 to 26 months, Olive wagyu requires an additional six months of raising time. This extended period and the expense associated with the specialized feed make Olive wagyu a limited and sought-after commodity.
Emergence of Olive Wagyu:
Initially, Masaki kept his olive feeding method a secret from buyers. However, in 2010, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease severely impacted Japan's livestock industry. Amid the crisis, Masaki saw an opportunity to strengthen Shodoshima's beef production. Collaborating with local olive farmers, he pioneered the cultivation of Olive-fed cattle. By 2012, other farmers on Shodoshima embraced Masaki's methods, and a year later, Olive wagyu began shipping to locations beyond Shodoshima and Kagawa prefecture.
The Path to Sustainability:
Presently, approximately 2,500 Olive-fed cattle can be found on Shodoshima. Though this number is relatively small compared to wagyu production in regions like Kagoshima or Miyazaki, where the industry has flourished for decades, Masaki's farm is home to just 20 cattle. Achieving widespread success necessitates collaboration between cattle farmers and local olive producers. By working together, they can expand production while maintaining the exceptional quality and sustainability that define Olive wagyu.
The Culinary Prestige:
Olive wagyu has captivated renowned chefs, who appreciate its distinctive flavor profile and remarkable marbling. Despite its limited supply, the steak has become a highly sought-after ingredient, gracing the menus of esteemed establishments worldwide. Its rarity and exceptional taste elevate dining experiences, making it an indulgence for discerning connoisseurs.
Olive wagyu's journey from Shodoshima Island to international prominence epitomizes the marriage of ingenuity, sustainability, and culinary excellence. Masaki Ishi's pioneering efforts, fueled by a desire to create a superior wagyu experience, have given rise to a unique steak that captures the hearts and palates of epicureans. While its price may seem steep, Olive wagyu stands as a testament to the artistry and dedication required to produce an extraordinary gastronomic delicacy. As the demand for this exquisite steak grows, the collaboration between cattle farmers and olive producers will play a pivotal role in expanding its availability and ensuring its continued legacy as a true culinary gem.