Matsusaka or Matsuzaka beef is a form of wagyu beef which is produced in Matsusaka, Japan, in Mie Prefecture. This beef is famous for its tender texture, complex flavor, and beautifully marbled appearance, and it typically commands very high prices when it is offered for sale. Some people feel that Matsusaka beef is of a much higher quality than Kobe beef, another famous type of Japanese beef; Matsusaka beef certainly tends to have a more strongly developed flavor.
The term “wagyu” is used generically to describe several breeds of cattle raised in Japan. Matsusaka beef comes from Japanese Blacks, and by tradition, only heifers are raised in the area, and they are never bred, because this is said to influence the flavor of the beef. The cows are allowed to live until they are three years old, creating a much more distinctive, beefy meat; by contrast, most cattle in other regions of the world are slaughtered at around 18 months of age, or sometimes at two years old.
While the cows are raised, they are provided a rich and varied diet which is supposed to increase the marbling in their meat. The cows are also offered beer, which is supposed to stimulate their appetite, and they are given frequent massages. Contrary to fanciful news reports, the cows do not listen to music in their barns, but they are certainly well treated. All of this pampering adds considerably to the final price of the meat, which can be astoundingly costly, and the fact that only around 25,000 cows are slaughtered every year makes this rare meat even more expensive.
Most Matsusaka beef is sold on the hoof at auctions, and prize cows have sold for close to $100,000 US Dollars (USD), and sometimes much more, while others fetch around $10,000 USD, which is still an extremely high price for cattle intended for slaughter. Once auctioned and slaughtered, the meat may be sold directly to restaurants, in which case it becomes a prized menu item, or it may be sold through butchers and wholesalers.
Because Matsusaka beef is so expensive, people typically like to savor it when they have an opportunity to taste it. This rare meat should also be prepared carefully, to bring out the best of the flavor. Many restaurants offer Matsusaka tartare, using raw beef, and people should certainly avoid heavily cooking the beef, as this will destroy much of the complex, delicate flavor.