There's no better place to try wagyu beef than at the source, writes Kate Jordan-Moore.
A visit to Mayura Station, the de Bruin family's wagyu cattle property near Millicent in South Australia, brings the expression ''paddock to plate'' to life.
Managing partner Scott de Bruin is hands-on every step of the way, ensuring quality control of this luxurious meat from breeding through grain-feeding to distribution - and now to the end of the process at the property's newly opened tasting room.
The de Bruins invested in a small herd of full-blood black wagyu cattle in 1998 and, today, the 4000 (and growing) progeny of that herd roam 2428 hectares of lush hinterland on South Australia's Limestone Coast. This landscape features long flats of rich pasture, ridged with ancient sand dunes covered in remnant bush. The property is about 15 kilometres from the coast. De Bruin believes this terroir of limestone rises and coastal breezes contributes to Mayura wagyu's distinct flavour.
Superior wagyu is all about genetics and nutrition. The forebears of this herd came from one of Japan's leading wagyu breeders, Shogo Takeda, who visits Mayura each year to share his experience and expertise. Mayura's cattle are full-blood wagyu. The herd has never been crossed with other beef breeds, such as angus, even though this speeds growth and increases yield, because it reduces the unique wagyu flavours.
Slow growth and low stress are needed to achieve wagyu's fine grain and perfect marbling. At Mayura, it takes nearly three years to produce the perfect beast; 12 months in paddocks then 500 days' grain-feeding in a purpose-built facility with sawdust beds and automated feed systems.
The grain and fodder used in the lot is grown on 647 hectares of the property. There are also secret ingredients in the ration, as it is called. Every wagyu producer guards his or her recipe, often developed over decades, as it gives each brand its unique taste.
Mayura Station and its wagyu have won prestigious awards including consecutive national produce awards along with recognition for innovation and farming techniques.
It produces nearly a third of all Australian full-blood wagyu, with 50 per cent going overseas (it is big in Singapore and Dubai) and half to top-end restaurants - mainly in Sydney and Melbourne - hence the development of the purpose-built cellar door. There, Mayura's chef, Kirby Shearing, creates tasting plates and stages masterclasses using the station's wagyu, vegetables and herbs from its garden and local bush tucker.
Tucked into protected bush and overlooking Canunda National Park, the tasting room gives guests the chance to taste different wagyu cuts and styles of cooking it, while watching the chef work. Tastings can range from a single plate of five ''elements'' prepared as visitors watch, to a complete nose-to-tail experience of five to seven courses. There's also a private dining room for long lunches and the Wagyu and Wine Dinners that pair the beef with the best Coonawarra wines. There's no formula or set times for the tasting room, as ingredients and styles will be seasonal, and special requests can be discussed when booking.
A tasting might include ribs slowly braised Chinese-style; brisket cured, air-dried and finely sliced so as to be as translucent as rare paper; porterhouse cooked in a low and controlled water bath, then quickly chargrilled; fillet cold-smoked over hay and star anise; and a tasting can finish figuratively and literally at the beast's end, with the crispest spring rolls made from long-braised ox tail.
All the accompaniments also feature local ingredients, such as a relish made from muntries (native currants) and a salad of compressed cucumber and the seeds of the coastal pigface (a native succulent) that grows on the sandy ridges.
With Mayura situated about 45 minutes' drive from the premium vineyards of Coonawarra, the historic village of Penola and the ever-popular seaside village of Robe, it's a destination for visitors who want a unique Australian food experience.
The writer was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.