Authentic Kobe beef, among the most sought-after in the world, is low in supply and high in demand. To be classified as Kobe, it needs to come from the Tajima-gyu strain of the Japanese Black breed of Wagyu cattle, which must be born, raised and processed in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture (whose capital city is Kobe) in accordance with strict regulations regarding the animal’s diet and lifestyle, as well as the quality, weight and marbling of the meat.
Wagyu, the greater category to which Kobe belongs, simply refers to four major breeds of Japanese cattle. It’s a legitimate type of beef sold in the United States—unlike Kobe, a term that is unregulated here. While you’ve probably seen Kobe on menus, it is generally a marketing-driven misnomer.
Enter Georgia chef and restaurateur Linton Hopkins, whose portfolio of Atlanta restaurants includes C. Ellet's steak house and Restaurant Eugene, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. After recently discerning Athens, Ga., to be on the same latitudinal axis as Hyogo, with a similar warm, muggy climate, he began to wonder: Might Athens be sitting on Kobe-grade beef terroir?
Today, Hopkins is working with the University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to pioneer what he says could become the U.S. beef industry’s first Kobe-level subcategory. Though true Kobe will always be from Japan, he hopes to create an agricultural and regulatory system in its image here in Georgia.
To be successful, the project will entail years of painstaking work, both on beef farms and at the legislative level, including a raft of state regulations and a new quality standard. Hopkins and state Department of Agriculture commissioner Gary Black are currently laying the groundwork for a tiny, two-steer pilot.
Why would a chef like Hopkins attempt such a massively complicated undertaking? He says it comes down to building community along the chain of Georgia meat distribution. “I’m not just one single finger,” he says. “I’m a fist, I’m part of a hand, and I recognize my success as a finger depends on the other four.” With any luck, the eventual development of Georgia Kobe will not only give him and his fellow restaurateurs an exciting new product to play with, it will raise the bar for cattle farmers, butchers, beef distributors and restaurant-goers in Georgia.