South Australian cattle station debuts tasting room

There was a time when Wagyu beef was eaten by only the most sophisticated of travelers. True Kobe beef is from Wagyu cattle that are raised in a very specific manner in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. Technically, Wagyu is the Japanese term for all cattle, and Kobe beef comes from a strain known as Tajima.

Kobe Wagyu receive massages to reduce stress and muscle stiffness, a summer diet supplemented with beer as an appetite stimulant, and regular brush-downs with sake (which is reputed to soften their coats, not act as some bizarre form of on-the-hoof marinade). At anywhere from $200 to $300 a pound, Kobe beef is the most expensive in the world.

Wagyu have been raised in the U.S. since the mid-seventies, but the market really took off in the nineties. Today, it’s not unusual to find “Kobe” steaks and burgers on menus, but it’s a bit of marketing hyperbole. It’s actually “American Wagyu,” or “American Style Kobe,” or “Kobe American Style.” It’s still great meat, but it’s not Kobe beef, and most American Wagyu are crossbred with Angus cattle.

What has all this to do with a South Australian cattle station, you ask? Australia has its own burgeoning Wagyu industry, and in May I visited Mayura Station, a full-blood Wagyu operation just outside the Coonawara wine region. I’m a longtime advocate of the farm-to-fork concept, and Mayura produces some of Australia’s best Wagyu beef, supplying an impressive roster of restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, Penfold’s Magill Estate in Adelaide, and the Ritz-Carlton Singapore. As it happened, I’d tried Wagyu for the first time the week prior at Penfold’s, and it was delicious. But it was also obscured in sauce, and I didn’t have a real sense of what the big deal was. I was a bit skeptical, to be honest, so I made the trek out to Mayura to find out more.


Mayura is owned and operated by the entrepreneurial de Bruin family, who first brought over live, full-blood Wagyu from Japan in 1998. Today, they have a sustainable operation that produces award-winning beef from one of the largest (1,700 head of breeders) full-blood herds outside of Japan. Most of the meat is exported to Southeast Asia and the UAE, but their newest business concept is likely to create a larger domestic fan base.

In May, Mayura debuted its tasting room, a professional demonstration kitchen equipped with a long counter in front of the flattop range. Visitors from all over the world can now let their tastebuds discover why Wagyu is such a big deal.

Explains manager Scott de Bruin, “We felt there was a strong need for visitors and valued clients to experience various cooking styles from a simple tasting ($80AUD/pp), through to a full degustation paired with local wines ($120AUD/pp). The tasting room is a serious take on the “paddock-to-plate” concept, designed to mirror a state-of-the-art Teppanyaki bar.”

I visited Mayura as part of a Limestone Coast excursion for Tasting Australia. The country’s largest food and wine festival, it’s held in Adelaide every other year. While there’s an emphasis on South Australia, which produces most of the country’s wine in its 16 growing regions (including designations within), it’s generally a celebration of all things edible and Australian. For one hedonistic week, there are tastings, pairings, classes, tours, dinners, seminars, demos, and a riverside “Feast for the Senses” with dozens of food stalls.

En route to visit some wineries, a group of us had arranged to visit Mayura and do a vertical (head-to-tail) tasting. The tasting room accommodates 14 to 40 guests by appointment (self-drive required if you’re not with an organized group, so call well in advance to see if you can fit into an existing booking). All visits include a tour to visit the cattle, so guests can learn more about the breed, industry, and Mayura’s animal husbandry practices. You can even buy packaged beef on-site, for domestic travel.

We were greeted by de Bruin and on-site chef Kirby Shearing. Our group of 14 lined up in front of the place settings running down the length of the demo area. A huge overhead mirror provided a bird’s eye view of Shearing, as he showed us the various cuts of beef we would be tasting, in order: tongue, flank steak, filet, bresaola (thin slices of air-dried beef), and strip loin. Then de Bruin talked about Mayura’s history and the Australian Wagyu industry.

The reason Wagyu is so tender (not accounting for feeding practices, which includes extra finishing time on a blend of specific grains) is because the cattle have a higher percentage of marbling, due to selective breeding practices over thousands of years. Most of the fat is monounsaturated, the meat high in conjugated linoleic acid, and Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Wagyu beef actually has myriad health benefits similar to those found in grass-finished beef. It isn’t aged the way some American beef is, because the fat will break down. The fat also dissipates throughout the meat as it cooks, making it more forgiving to work with.

Japanese beef is graded on a scale of one to five (highest), based on marbling, yield, meat color, firmness and texture, and fat quality. Wagyu should be at least 25% marbled fat (by comparison, USDA Prime meat must have six- to eight-percent, and our grading system doesn’t include a classification for Wagyu). Thus, Japanese A-5 Wagyu is considered primo, top-of-the-line. It should be tender, with lustrous fat and a sweet, fine flavor, even when eaten raw, as with a carpaccio.

Shearing started us off with a tasting plate of tongue that had been brined and poached. It was silky and mild, practically melting in my mouth. Next came flash-seared cubes of flank, a lean cut that is usually marinated, and cut across the grain to make it more tender. Not this steak. It was unctuously fatty, in the best possible way. Buttery. Juicy. Addictive.

Filet is already a rich cut, so I was especially curious to see how Wagyu compared to Prime.
The meat fell away at the touch of Shearing’s knife, it was so tender. Absolutely delicious, but as with regular beef, I prefer a ribeye or New York steak, because they have more flavor and a bit of chew to them. The flank steak had a little more complexity to it.

The bresaola was made from eye of round, and my least favorite, only because I’m not a big fan of the preparation. But the strip loin that concluded our tasting was a unanimous hit. While Wagyu is undeniably more subtle in flavor than standard grain- or grass-finished beef, it was deeply flavorful, and just slightly toothsome. Yet it still retained that glorious, fat-infused richness. Paired with a side of Shearing’s crisp, airy onion rings (his secret weapon: adding gin to his beer batter).

Our visit concluded with a tour of the open barns where some of the cattle were being finished on grain. They’re pretty things: Stocky and chocolate brown, with short horns that slant upwards. I was duly impressed with the property we saw on the tour. As a food and agriculture writer, it’s easy to tell when you’re dealing with a facility not on top of its sanitation or animal husbandry practices.

So here’s the thing about Wagyu…or Kobe beef. It’s pricey as hell, but get the good stuff, and it’s so rich, you can’t eat more than a few ounces. I now understand why true Kobe beef, and the cattle it comes from, have such a reputation. A little Wagyu goes a long way.

Getting There

The Limestone Coast is located in the southeastern part of the state. It’s a diverse mix of remote beaches and sand dunes, pine forest, ancient caves (including Naracoorte World Heritage Fossil Site, worth a visit, especially if you go caving), and farmland and vineyards. The adorable seaside town of Robe, in particular, is a great place to spend a weekend and feast upon the crayfish (actually spiny lobster) the town is famous for.

Of the Limestone Coast’s six wine regions, Coonawara is the most famous (primarily for its Cabernet Sauvignon). It’s a one-hour flight from Adelaide to the pleasant town of Mt. Gambier, famed for its stunning Blue Lake, which is actually a volcanic crater. Mayura, which is located just outside the town of Millicent, is a thirty-minute drive away (you can rent a car at the airport). The Barn in Mt. Gambier makes a good overnight base for Wagyu- and wine-tasting excursions. Just in case you return still hankering for a ribeye and a glass of red, The Barn Steakhouse wine list has over 400 selections from the region. .

Qantas and the South Australia Tourism Commission are giving away unlimited flights for two from Los Angeles to Adelaide for one year, in a contest running through December 31st, 2010. To enter, visit

Tasting Australia 2012 will be held April 26-May 3.

Daily Pampering: Swarovski crystal-encrusted Hello Kitty bottled water

Remember when you were in third grade, and instead of working on your multiplication tables you furtively traded Hello Kitty puffy stickers for bubble gum-scented Hello Kitty erasers? No? Well, if you missed out on that iconic elementary school experience, fear not, because the Sanrio empire has expanded its line of high-end adult goods in commemoration of the megalocephalic cat’s 35th anniversary.

The folks at Sanrio have just released Swarovski crystal-encrusted bottles of Hello Kitty luxury water. At a mere $100 a pop, this is one indulgence water aficionados of all ages won’t want to miss. Produced by Japanese “jewelry water” company Fillico, the contents come from a natural spring at the base of Kobe’s Mt. Rokko.

The appearance of the water vessels will also strike a nostalgic chord with Boomers and Gen-X’ers who recall the cone-shaped pump hairsprays of the ’70’s and early ’80’s. The waters come in five different colors (or flavors, depending upon which vague marketing blurb you happen to read): red, for “friendship”; pink for “cute”; yellow for “heartful,” green for “wish,” and lavender, for “sweet.” You can even have them engraved, for that personal touch. The top of each bottle is capped with a crystal crown, with a color-corresponding crystal bow around the neck. Even the Hello Kitty moniker sports a wee little crystal bow on her head.

We still have some Hello Kitty puffy stickers lying around if anyone wants to trade us for one of these crystal bottles. Anyone?

Want more? Get your dose of daily pampering right here.

Minibar makes a memorable hotdog in Boston

I was surprised that fellow Gadlinger Melanie Nayer was willing to be seen in a restaurant with me. She generally covers the good life, and when it comes to culinary, I rush for the lowest common denominator. After kicking back martinis at the Fairmont Copley’s Oak Bar – and old haunt from my White Collar Travel days – we circled the Back Bay looking for an upscale alternative to the stuff I’d normally chomp in diners. We landed at minibar in the Copley Square Hotel, an establishment also recommended by @LuxeTiffany, who, as you can guess from her Twitter name, has tastes that tend to run higher than mine.

In this fine establishment, where we were looking to pick up some sliders, Melanie nearly shouted at me upon opening the menu, “They have hotdogs!” No, not for her of course. She’s seen that I look for a dog everywhere I go, however, and knew that a luxe dog from Boston‘s sexiest hotel was a must. So, still buzzing with vodka – not to mention the Pepin Garcia cigars and port I’d enjoyed earlier with Chris Lynn (@colonnade) of the Colonnade Hotel – I prepared to sink my teeth into a Kobe beef dog at minibar.I’ve always been skeptical about Kobe beef. In burgers, for example, the extra fat which delivers the flavor burns off in the cooking process, delivering far less of a Kobe experience than you’d find with a steak. So for hotdogs, I had no idea if the meat from the laziest cows on Earth would make a difference. I still don’t. Maybe it was the Kobe beef … or just the fact that Minibar knows how to find a damned good hotdog. I can’t be sure. But, the Kobe hotdog was nothing short of delightful.

Though my palate was fried with liquor and cigars, I was able to detect an interesting balance among the hotdog roll, the mustard (I missed much of the flavor here, I suspect) and even the roll, which was toasted to perfection, recalling the experience I had with Montreal foodie Katerine Rollet back in September.

For years, I steered clear of the upscale hotdog world. Even with my unrefined (perhaps obliterate) sense of taste, I could still appreciate the sorts of dishes that define an excellent restaurant, and I preferred to get my dogs from the “experts” stands and beside carts on the street. Yet, minibar has confirmed for me what I first began to sense in Antigua last summer: even the stylish can put together a hell of a hotdog.