How does King River produce award-winning Wagyu?

The Wagyu competition space is highly competitive, with various producers from around Australia vying for a podium position. From visual impact to mouth-feel, cuts are compared by top industry experts to crown the best of the best producers.

For King River, winning awards is more than just nice for the mantle piece. Each award is a vote of confidence for our customers, showing that we prioritise what they value. Awards are also a tangible representation of everything our team achieves behind the scenes. From our breeding team refining genetics every season to our close processing partnerships, winning a prestigious competition is a dedicated team effort. This blog explores how King River produces an award-winning cut, what happens in a Wagyu competition, and what the judges are really looking for.

Award-winning Wagyu are years in the making

Winning a Wagyu competition is a process that takes years, if not decades. An award-winning cut is always the product of genetics, care, nutrition and processing. Getting to a place of quality production in these areas requires a slow accumulation of data over many years and generations. For this reason, awards are an important part of recognising the dedication of our team at every stage of the process. 

The first step to having award-winning Wagyu is genetics. King River’s breeding program carefully analyses the pedigree of breeding steers and bulls, matching genetics, features and size to produce the optimal intramuscular marbling fat. From there, the management of calves begins immediately after birth. They are gradually prepared for weaning to ensure the process happens without stress. 

While the competition phase occurs over a few days, raising award winners is a long process over multiple years. Throughout the Wagyu’s life, grazing, mustering and care are all conducted in low-stress environments to support the steady growth of muscle and intramuscular fat. Nutrition is a high priority at King River, as we know this is a crucial contributing factor to our product’s size, flavour, marbling and consistency. Our Wagyu are monitored by a nutritionist in our state-of-the-art feedlot and given a steady, curated diet while being gradually prepared for processing. 

It’s only during the final stage that the competition cut is chosen. Until this point, all King River cattle are given the same high-level breeding, nutrition and care. Our team works closely with production for the final stage to find and cut our competition entry. We ensure clean, straight lines are cut for presentation, and careful handling keeps the Wagyu ready for judging.

What is the competition process?

There’s no way to hide at a Wagyu competition. Industry experts judge each cut without knowing the brand, so the raw quality of the meat must speak for itself. This experience is significant for our company as winning an award speaks volumes to our current and future clients. During competitions, judges assess each entry on the most desirable Wagyu features. These are the same characteristics our clients value in their products. When we receive high praise in competitions, ongoing King River clients can see that we are continuing to prioritise their product needs. Our new and existing clients also have tangible evidence that they are investing in a quality product, with trustworthy feedback from independent industry experts.   

The competition process involves various blind judging rounds. Experts score entrants on their visual representation, marbling, aroma and taste. At some competitions, the Wagyu is also digitally scanned to give an objective reading of the intramuscular fat, or marbling, in the carcass. Using advanced technology, such as the MIJ-30 digital carcase camera used at the Wagyu Branded Beef competition, digital scans can give exact data on the distribution and fineness of the Wagyu marbling. Scores from the visual, tasting and digital scanning rounds are compiled to give each entrant a final score and rank.

What are judges looking for?

In Wagyu competitions, the judges look for a combination of:

  • Marbling
  • Digital marbling fineness
  • The eye muscle area
  • The percentage of unsaturated fats
  • Visual presentation
  • Flavour 
  • Aroma
  • Feel. 

Marbling, colour, size, and eye muscle area are all considered factors during visual judging. The tasting round is more complex as judges compare a diverse spectrum of feel, aroma and flavours. When assessing ‘feel’, experts use descriptors like chewy, granular, greasy, mushy, silky, dry, juicy and very tender. Aroma garners a long list of adjectives, including caramel, citrus, fishy, medicinal, popcorn, or floral. ‘Taste’ is the creme de la creme of categories as judges harness various expressions such as beany, bitter, buttery, earthy, metallic, nutty, rich, soapy, sweet and umami (the unique beef flavour). These Wagyu descriptions and more are presented as feedback on each entrant before judges give their final score. Scores from each category combine to determine the top-scoring entry and the winning Wagyu.

King River awards

Recently, King River has been honoured to take home several top three positions in Wagyu competitions around Australia. In the prestigious 2023 Wagyu Branded Beef Competition, hosted by the Australian Wagyu Association, King River received two awards, including a silver medal for our Class Two Purebred and a bronze medal for our Class Three Crossbred Wagyu. We particularly excelled in the Digital Marbling Fineness section, receiving a 9.1 for our Crossbred entry and 9.5 for our Purebred cut. The judge’s feedback was that our crossbred Wagyu has a “…soft, tender texture, caramelised aroma and earthy flavour with lasting juiciness.” Similarly, our silver award-winning Purebred was said to be “enjoyably tender with earthy flavours, initial burst of juiciness and clean mouth feel”. King River was also excited to take home the silver at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show for our Purebred Wagyu. 

At King River, we see awards as more than just an achievement; they symbolise our commitment to our clients and everything our team achieves behind the scenes. Every award recognises the work at each stage of the Wagyu life cycle, from our breeding team to hard-working farming families, to our dedicated processing partners.