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Before Japanese wagyu beef is awarded its grade, a number of measurements and observations are made to determine the quality of the wagyu beef. Yield is measured and the quality is determined after the evaluation of marbling, meat colour and brightness, firmness and texture of the wagyu beef, as well as colour, lustre and quality of fat.
The grade of the wagyu is dictated by a letter and a number. The letter can be from A to C (A being the best), and the number from 1 to 5 (5 being the best).
The A to C scale represents the amount of wagyu that can be harvested from the cattle. Grade 'B' is treated as the standard, making grade 'A' a premium and most sought after product. Before slaughter, a calculation can be made to work out the percentage of meat, fat and bone that the cattle is comprised of. The more meat, the better the potential ranking. It is usually the case that larger cattle have better quality meat. It's only after slaughter farmers can find out the real quality of their beef, when the grade number is awarded to the wagyu.
The first criteria that is judged is the most obvious, as it's what makes wagyu so special - the marbling otherwise known as 'sashi'. The beef is judged by the ratio of fat to lean meat. The more fat, the better.
Next is the colour of the lean meat. This is judged by how dark or light it is. Midtones are graded better quality, with lighter and darker meats given lower grades.
The colour of the fat is also an important factor when deciding the grade. The glossiness of the fat also plays a part as this hints towards the quality of the fat and how tender it will be. The fat in higher quality wagyu has to melt-in-the-mouth. The lighter and shinier the fat, the better.
Finally, the beef is judged by its firmness. This gauge is more open to interpretation as it is difficult to give a visual representation. The beef should be firm but tender. This is so it does not fall apart while cooking but equally is not chewy.
The grading of wagyu beef is a strict process, and as demonstrated above, it's not about taste, but about the quality of the meat.