Salina cattle produce exclusive Wagyu beef

SALINA — A New Mexico excursion to explore a niche market convinced Salina cattleman Jack Cossette that the Japanese Wagyu breed was worth a try to increase profits.

The ultimate decision rested on his taste buds.

One bite of a steak at the Lone Mountain Cattle Co. auction in April 2008 tipped him into believing that his brother, Jerrold Cossette, was right to pursue the Wagyu.

"It's got that buttery taste," Jack said.

Jerrold, a Salina ear, nose and throat specialist, owns Gypsum Valley Wagyu Cattle Co. in eastern Saline County.

Jack Cossette, a former Saline restaurateur, manages his brother's farm and cattle ranch. It traditionally has raised the black Angus breed but has added Wagyu, a breed that touts high profits for producers and beef that's healthier and tastier, according to Lone Mountain promotional materials.

The Cossettes have 14 full-blooded Wagyu cattle, including three bulls. Their first Wagyu calf, produced through an embryo transplant with help from Dickinson County veterinarian Casey Barten, was born in March.

The goal, Jack Cossette said, is to build a 200-head Wagyu herd, and to sell full-blooded Wagyu cattle, the offspring of Wagyu crossbred to Angus, (called American-style Kobe beef), along with semen and embryos harvested from the Wagyu.

A Wagyu steak, even an American-style Kobe, commands an astronomical price in restaurants.

On a 2007 trip to Las Vegas, Glenn Skulborstad, of Salina, a fellow Wagyu producer, saw an advertisement for a six-ounce American Kobe steak, for $170.

"It melts in your mouth. Once you've eaten it, you'll say that's the best beef you've ever had," he said.

Skulborstad, who owns pastureland, has joined in the Wagyu venture as an avocation.

The best cuts of Angus beef are rated prime. Wagyu beef "is graded better than prime in the United States," Jack Cossette said.

"It's outstanding, like nothing you've ever tasted before," he said.

Wagyu beef isn't sold much in these parts, because not enough people can afford it, said Ron Duis, manager of Smoky River Meats, 215 W. Kirwin.

"With (American-style) Kobe beef, you're getting up to $75 to $100 a pound," he said. "There might be a select few in Salina who would pay that kind of a price, but the normal customer would not."

Krehbiels Specialty Meats has butchered a number of the expensive cattle for a professional fisherman from Texas, said Homer Krehbiel. He owns Krehbiels Specialty Meats and Krehbiels Market & Deli, both in McPherson.

"It's extremely tasty," Krehbiel said. "It's very highly marbled and... the fat in it is supposed to be healthier. I can't verify that."

Krehbiels tried to market some of the Wagyu beef, but "McPherson's not a big enough town," Homer said.

The companies do offer American Style Kobe ground beef at the market — patties for $8.99 a pound, compared to $2.59 for regular hamburger patties — and a cooked half-pound hamburger at the deli is $4.99, said Brian Weidemier, who works at the Krehbiel deli.

"There is just more of a meat flavor. It's hard to explain until you have one. There is a distinct difference," he said. "I eat them frequently and I love them. They're a great burger."

A first glance, the raw cuts of meat from the Wagyu can be startling, Jack Cossette said, with more fat — marbling — intertwined with the red flesh.

Much of that melts away when it's cooked into a tender piece of meat that can be cut with a fork, Skulborstad said.