I had the opportunity to take a very quick but exciting trip to Idaho and Washington. On October 20th I ventured to Pocatello, ID with a few other chefs and some of our friends from Sysco to visit the AB Foods Snake River Farms feed lot. This is the home of one of the largest domestic Kobe herds in America. What an amazing opportunity to see how huge these animals are.
My knowledge of Kobe cattle is far greater than it was prior to arriving in Pocatello. It’s amazing that a simple Korean draft animal has become such an amazing product. The story of how the animals came to the US from Japan is very interesting. Bulls were brought here in the 70′s because the Japanese could not keep up with the growing demand for Kobe. As domestic herds grew and our ability to produce bigger animals was peaking through the 90′s, the Japanese shut down North American export of beef because of outbreaks of mad cow disease. Mad cow disease never affected any of the Kobe products. The domestic producers had to find an outlet domestically for its product. What a fantastic upside to mad cow disease.
To see the animals up close, you really can see the characteristics that come through in the primal cuts of beef. To get a true sense of the enormous girth and incredible size of the neck and chest is truly impressive. The front end of the Kobe is considerably larger than a traditional Angus steer. They taper drastically and they have narrow haunches and rear ends, almost the size of an Angus. They have a much shorter face than the Angus and a very distinct tuft of hair between the ears. Bob, who runs the feed lot, was very generous with his time as we toured the various enclosures, feed storage and hospital areas. The most humorous part about the feed lot was the discussion and tour of the food storage area. The diet of the Kobe consists of hay, corn in several different forms and potato byproduct, also known as French fries. I think it’s very ironic that some of the worlds most well marbled and tasty meat gets to this amazing point through consuming large amounts of French fries. After seeing the marbling on some on these animals, it has certainly reduced my fry intake. The cows eat about 12 pounds of this mixed diet a day with conversion to muscle mass of about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds. I hope sharing this portion of the trip excites you to visit your local feed lot. This concluded our whirlwind tour of Pocatello and we went on to the processing plant in the Willamette Valley of Washington.
After the animals have spent 500 plus days at the feed lot, most of these are off to be processed at 1700-2100 lbs. This is about two years old. We were able to view the Kobe meat in a hanging state just prior to going through the grading station. The Kobe is graded at the fourteenth rib and given a 1, 2 or 3 grade based on its muscle marbling. The number 1′s are the Premium Gold product. The marbling in these animals is truly amazing. After the meat is graded, we were able to watch them move through the processing line. It was impressive to see the efficiency and skill these meat cutters have in moving animals through the processing line. The AB staff was very open and allowed us access to most of the processing. The facility is incredibly clean and well equipped to put out the amazing product. The entire process is truly amazing to witness.
I want to sincerely thank both Sysco and AB Foods for giving me such an incredible opportunity to learn about the incredible Kobe beef story and product. We look forward to using this product on our menu.