'Best beef you're going to get': Sask.-created 'snow beef' bringing taste of wagyu to Prairies

Published Feb. 14, 2019 10:56 a.m. ET
Updated Feb. 15, 2019 9:02 a.m. ET

Wagyu beef is considered by chefs around the world to be some of the tastiest, most tender beef money can buy.

Now, one Saskatchewan farmer has found his own way to create a taste of wagyu on the Prairies, through cattle he calls “snow beef.”

“To put it simply, snow beef is the best beef you’re going to get in Saskatchewan,” said Ian Crosbie, the producer behind snow beef.

Wagyu bulls crossed with Holstein cows

Crosbie, who runs a dairy and cattle farm west of Caronport, says he started crossbreeding his Holstein dairy cows with wagyu from Japan through artificial insemination after the seeing wagyu beef frequently used on cooking shows and the internet.

“Japanese cattle, wagyu, they’re known for their inherent ability to deposit lots of marbling or fat in between the muscling of the beef,” Crosbie told CTV News. “With the proper diet, really good genetics, and a little bit of extra time, you end up getting this fantastic beef out of it.”

Special diet

Once snow beef cattle are born, they’re raised alongside Crosbie’s larger general herd until they’re about a year and a half old. Then, they’re separated and put on a tightly controlled diet developed by Crosbie and a wagyu feeding specialist from the United States.

"We’ll start putting the wagyu on a full finishing program,   and they’ll be on that for about 300 days, which is very different than a typical feedlot animal where they’re only on feed for about 180 days,” Crosbie said. “They’ll eat a grain ration that is predominantly rolled barley, whole oats, distiller’s grain from wheat or corn, some molasses and a mineral mixture that I actually import out of Texas from my nutritionist.”

Once the snow beef cows are in their final stage of feeding, they eat whole oats, slightly different from their Asian counterparts.

“Over in Japan they feed lots of their wagyu when they’re on their finishing ration rice straw, which we obviously don’t have access to in Saskatchewan, and so the oats kind of mimics a close resemblance to the rice.”

Snow beef on the menu

Crosbie says he uses the name “snow beef” in order to clear up any confusion that the meat is from a crossbreed and not from full-blooded wagyu cattle, but he says the results are strikingly similar.

“It gets people to question just what is it exactly,” Crosbie explained. “The wagyu name gets thrown around a lot with beef breeds, and it’s not full-blood, they’re crossbreds, so I didn’t want to put the wagyu name in there just for marketing sake.”

“The name gets people asking questions, and then I try and educate them a little bit, and hopefully they give it a go.”

Some restaurants are starting to do just that, as snow beef is featured on the menu at two Regina businesses.

‘A very unique product’

One of those restaurants is Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar in downtown Regina. Executive Chef and partner Jonathan Thauberger says he first crossed paths with Crosbie at Agribition in November, and started introducing snow beef into his menu in January.

“Pretty much everything has worked,” Thauberger said. “The fat content in the meat is great, the marbling in the steaks (is) perfect, and even things with the briskets and the rumps and that they’re super delicious — very flavourful.”

Snow beef is on offer as a butcher’s cut, a carpaccio and is integrated into other menu items.

Thauberger says it’s going over well with his customers.

“They love it,” he said.  “A: it’s supporting a Saskatchewan farmer. B: it’s locally produced, and it tastes great. It’s a very unique product.”

Crave recently bought more snow beef, and intends to branch out in its offering of the unique Saskatchewan product in the near future. Cost wise, the butcher’s cut will likely cost more than the average steak, but Thauberger says it’s worthy of the premium price tag.

“It’s delicious, it melts in your mouth, it’s amazing.”

Ian Crosbie poses with his cattle on his Caronport farm

Growing brand in Sask.

Back at Crosbie’s farm, he’s also become quite skilled at cooking up snow beef himself for his family. He thanks a combination of online video tutorials and trial and error for his searing savvy.

“Usually either my cooking gets ‘That’s the best steak I’ve ever had, Dad’ or ‘That’s the worst steak I’ve ever had, Dad.’ There’s no in between,” Crosbie said with a laugh while plating one of his steaks.

Crosbie currently has 30 head of snow beef cows, but hopes to expand his snow beef herd in the future.

“We’ll see where it takes us. Right now the abattoir that we’re at is only provincially inspected, and so we’re focusing on growing our brand in Saskatchewan and becoming synonymous with great beef in the province.”

Crosbie adds if he can keep his brand and his beef consistent over the next few years, he’ll eye expansion beyond his home province, taking snow beef to markets and restaurants across the country.