I don’t know what I’m expecting to discover when I arrive at Trenchmore Farm to learn about their Sussex Wagyu. I’m ashamed to admit I have been amusing myself with the thought of turning into a yard in rural Cowfold, near Horsham, West Sussex, to find a bunch of people rubbing down cows.
You see, the one thing I understand about Wagyu is that it comes from Japan, where farmers have a tradition of massaging cattle. This, I’ve been told, helps fat disperse throughout the muscle, producing steaks so magnificently marbled they melt in the mouth – steaks also so prohibitively expensive you only find them in high-end restaurants.
It doesn’t take long for farmers Andrew and Joanne Knowles to put right my misconceptions. It turns out Wagyu simply means Japanese cow, with example breeds being Akaushi and Kobe, which refers only to cattle reared in the Kobe region. Wagyu breeds produce the most succulent beef in the world, but the reason for this – the propensity to lay down intramuscular fat that is virtuously high in mono-unsaturates and oleic acid – is a genetic trait.
The massage part, says Andrew, is a ‘slight myth’ derived from a common misunderstanding about the context of farming in Japan. It comes from the fact that many Japanese farms are smallholdings, where maybe just a single cow will be kept in a barn. ‘The cows tend to be indoors quite a lot,’ says Andrew, ‘so they get stiff, and the farmers massage them for that reason. We stroke ours a lot. I don’t know if I’d describe it technically as a massage, but they get quite a lot of attention!’