Located in the southern part of Yamagata prefecture, the Okitama basin is surrounded by the mountains of Asahi, Iide, Azuma, and Ohu. Yonezawa Beef is a high-class beef brand, the title that is given to Japanese black cattle grown in the area that fulfills strict requirements. The management of branded cattle is extremely strict as well, with every single animal registered in the system database, available to be searched by anyone.
The taste of Yonezawa Beef was first discovered by a British man. In 1871, the ninth generation lord of the Yonezawa Domain, Uesugi Yozan, started a school to give everyone a chance to receive education regardless of their social status. A trade merchant who was living in Yokohama named Charles Henry Dallas was then invited to the school as an English teacher. During those days, four-legged animals were not eaten in Yonezawa, yet Dallas wanted to get a taste of his hometown. He thus asked Mankichi, the cook he’d brought with him from Yokohama, to make a dish using the Japanese Black beef of Yonezawa. Surprised by its great taste, when he left Yonezawa after finishing his term, Dallas took one of the Yonezawa cattle with him to Yokohama. He served the beef to his peers and it garnered high praise, which helped spread Yonezawa Beef’s name all over the country.
As we can see in this anecdote, the Yonezawa cattle back in those days were not raised for meat production. People in the Yonezawa region bought two to three year old cattle from the southern part of Iwate prefecture and bred them for farming and transport purposes. The fact that the cattle were raised in harsh climate conditions for a long time and with the love of local people, who treated them as part of their family, made the quality of meat superior to others. Even to this day, farmers raise each of their Yonezawa cattle with great love.
Yonezawa Beef can probably be best tasted as steak or shabu-shabu, but you can also enjoy it in packaged curry or stew, and as beef jerky, salami or tsukudani (food boiled in soy sauce). The great taste of Yonezawa Beef was introduced to the Japanese by a foreigner. Now it’s your turn to rediscover it.