Driving down Route 4 in Quechee, I looked at the sign in front of Singletons Market — and then looked again.
"Fresh Wagyu Coming Friday," it read.
Fresh Wagyu — A new Vermont craft brew? A hip hop artist coming to play the Route 4 grocery? What it sounds like to say "thank you" with a mouth full of peanut butter?
Silly me. Nat Jenne, who runs the meat department at Singletons, explains that it's a particularly tasty kind of beef that originated in Japan and is now produced in our very own Upper Valley. Friday's shipment is coming from Royalton Farms.
And it may not last long. Their last delivery — 480 pounds — disappeared despite prices that run about twice as high as ordinary, high quality beef.
"We got it for the first time Fathers Day weekend and sold out in a week and a half," said Jenne.
American Wagyu Association photo
What's the magic? "Marbling" — beefspeak for those streaks of fat that lace the most tender kinds of beef. According to Royalton Farms, regular Angus beef has no more than 8 percent marbling, while Wagyu runs 20 to 25 percent.
And it's good fat, Wagyu producers say, containing higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It tastes good as well, says Jenne, rendering traditionally tough cuts of beef surprisingly tender and the normally tender ones into a delicacy.
"It's melt-in-your mouth tender," he says. "It's hard to explain the taste difference until you try it."
Bring your wallet. A Wagyu New York strip steak runs just under $43/pound, compared to $18 to $23 for the normal stuff. Wagyu hamburger weighs in at about $11 a pound, compared to $5.50 for the usual.
Your Wagyu will come not only with marbling but with an exotic history, a cattle herd that was closed to non-Japanese breeding varieties from 1635 to 1868, and then again from 1910 onward. But American farmers began producing Wagyu beginning in 1975, and it's become a favorite among gourmet types ever since, says the American Wagyu Association.
And the word itself? "Wa" means Japanese and "gyu" means cow.
In addition to Wagyu beef, Singletons offers a variety of smoked items — bacon, ham, cheese, even dog treats