It was the end of June in New York City. The gourmet industry gathering that was the 2009 Fancy Food Show had run its course. Founder Francisco Pinto and partner Damien Claire, of luxury foodstuffs importer and distributor South Pacific Specialties, were boarding an evening American Airlines flight home to Miami when it happened.
Seated nearby was Fernando Hartwig, owner of Andes Wagyu, the largest company breeding and exporting Wagyu cattle in Chile. Having exhibited at the show with a strong presence from his country's trade commission, Hartwig was on his way back to Santiago to grow his business and had his sights on entering the U.S. market. The three hadn't crossed paths until then. They began talking.
Fast-forward to today, and the collaboration that resulted from the onboard rendezvous plans to introduce Chilean Wagyu beef to a menu near you in about two months, just in time for the typically indulgent holiday season. Gourmet groceries and farmers' markets are likely to follow.
"It was like destiny," Claire explained in a phone interview last night. The idea was romantic enough, even had it not been relayed between drags of a cigarette, with a charming French accent.
Andes Wagyu is the first and only company to import pure, 100 percent Wagyu embryos directly from Japan to Chile. Wagyu technically means "Japanese" (Wa) "cattle" (gyu) and is the breed used to produce Kobe beef in the Kobe region of Japan. According to the company, Andes Wagyu will eventually be able to offer 100 percent Wagyu meat outside of Japan through its breeding practices.
Wagyu is renowned worldwide for its capacity to infiltrate fat inside and outside the muscle rather than just outside the muscle like most cattle. This makes the meat incredibly tender and more flavorful.
If you were a bull or a cow, you'd be very comfortable living in Andes Wagyu's feedlots. You'd roll in plush hay bedding, listen to classical music broadcast from a sound system, and bask in special lighting and air ventilation. All of this special treatment would make you feel very relaxed. You might not tense your muscles as much as your less fortunate peers.
At this facility, though, these bovine black beauties are not fed sake or given massages. The company claims this is the stuff of urban legend. Instead, part of the cattle's diet includes fresh, dry, and fermented corn that contains a bit of alcohol and a wide variety of different grains.
Andes Wagyu stands behind its roomy, comfy living conditions and feeding practices, and believes that along with genetics, these are the biggest differences between its product and other so-called Wagyu products offered in the States. What is called Wagyu beef in America or Australia, they say, is usually 50 percent Wagyu and 50 percent Angus (F-1) and is farmed much more like American Angus rather than traditional methods used in Japan.
"The quality of Andes Wagyu's products is demonstrated by the fact that the meat is currently being exported to Japan," Claire says. "It is also consumed by the Spanish royal family and the most prestigious restaurants in Europe."
According to Claire, South Pacific Specialties will begin selling F-2 (75 percent Wagyu) and F-3 (82.5 percent) to South Florida restaurants at wholesale. Consumers will find retail prices comparable with Australian Wagyu, but the beef will have better quality of marbling.
"Beef marbling standard, or BMS, goes from 1 to 12, with the best American Prime only reaching 5 on this scale," Claire adds. "Andes Wagyu achieves marbling starting at a minimum of 6 and reaches up to 11."
So far, the product has been sampled in, but not sold wholesale yet to, a limited selection of restaurants in the States. The French Laundry kitchen has prepped it, but there are none to speak of yet in New York. And if Claire and Pinto have their way with the strategy to help Andes Wagyu bring its product to market in the States, Miami will be ground zero. It's only natural, being that our city is the gateway to Latin America, but it's also a move in the right direction for a town that is usually one culinary step behind fellow sophisticated foodie cities.
South Pacific Specialties is pledging another precedent: make accurate, responsible, and transparent menu labeling a priority, including educating buyers on the proper way to market the product. Now that's a whiff of C02 even we can get behind.
South Pacific Specialties (SPS) is the direct importer of Premium Quality Kobe Style Wagyu Beef, naturally raised in Chile, to the United States. Since opening in 2004, product lines have grown to include various seafood items, Wagyu beef, olive oil, and duck products (including foie gras). SPS does not sell directly to the public -- only to retailers, restaurants, and distributors. The company can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.