by John Mariani

(Republished with permission from At the highest end of the U.S. meat industry is but a handful of true butchers whose long history guarantees not only that they obtain the very finest meat available from producers but who know what's--forgive the pun--b.s. when it comes to beef. One of the most respected, both for wholesale and retail, is DeBragga and Spitler, founded in NYC the 1920s, whose chef clients include Daniel Boulud, Laurent Tourondel, Eric Ripert and Charlie Palmer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Alfred Portale and Terrance Brennan.


  The company was founded by Joseph DeBragga, Emil Guenther and James Heilman, and in 1948 was incorporated under its present name, DeBragga and Spitler, by Farmar DeBragga (Joseph's son)    and Paul Spitler. In 1954, Marc Sarrazin, who had been trained as a butcher at his family's hotel and restaurant in the Charolais region of France, joined the firm. He became President in 1973,    retiring in 1992, when his son Marc John Sarrazin became President. In 2006, George W. Faison, formerly partner in D’Artagnan quality prime and natural meats, game and foie gras, became a    partner and COO at DeBragga and Spitler.


  In 2007, George and Marc (left) developed a consumer online store at that allows people across the country to purchase their meats and poultry. In 2011, DeBragga moved from its    historic space in NYC's meatpacking district to quarters in Jersey City, New Jersey. Today the company is the sole NYC-based distributor for "Certified Angus Beef" and imports wagyu beef from    Miyazaki, Japan, as well as wagyu from Australia and the U.S. and is building its own industry with grass-fed cattle in New York State and raising its own heritage breed hogs. I asked Marc and    George to clear up a lot of questions about beef at the high end of the market and what restaurants are and are not really serving.


Since there has never been more than 2-4 percent of the meat in the U.S. Graded as USDA Prime, how is it that so many hundreds—thousands—of restaurants claim they have it? Good question – probably false advertising. I do not know that for a fact but it seems logical.


What is the most distinctive difference between dry aged and wet aged beef? How much dry aged beef is ever actually in the market? Dry aged beef is beef that is kept out of its original packaging in an open air environment. This both tenderizes and alters the flavor profile. Wet aging is product that is kept in a vacuum packaged environment. It gets tender but the flavor profile is not improved. True dry aged beef is well below 1% of all beef consumed.

Is there a difference between “wagyu” and “kobe” or are they both misnomers? There is a difference. Wagyu refers to a specific breed of cattle while Kobe refers to a geographic area in Japan. Kobe

is  actually a city in Hyogo prefecture, where great Wagyu became famous. The best in Japan now comes from Miyazaki prefecture which is in the southernmost island of Kyushu (right). They won the last two culinary Olympics WAGYU competition, which is held every five years..


What does A5 refer to with wagyu? A5 refers to the best of the best in the Japanese grading system. The right marbling, the right color, etc. There are many tests that need to be met to called A5 (below).


If 90% of its wagyu production stays in Japan, how is it possible for US butchers and restaurateurs to claim they sell/serve Kobe beef? Not all Wagyu is from Japan. We sell product from Australia and,  the US as well. Those products are crosses. They are not pure blood. That is how supply becomes more readily available. It is not all Japanese. The Japanese should do what the Champagne producers did. Or at the least insist that origin be listed when product is sold.


That sounds as if anyone in the US can buy wagyu any time. True? If so, what makes it so rare and expensive? Right now product is available. It is very pricey. At the price point that is garners we are able to supply our clientele. The expense is in the way the animal is raised and the amount of time that it takes to get the marbling to that high state. That is also why it is so rare. Actual Wagyu Beef from Hyogo prefecture is available in the U.S. in miniscule quantities. But it is not the best Wagyu in Japan. Old habits die hard.


As a butcher, do you sell New Zealand or Australian lamb? We sell both. I am a fan of domestic lamb but both New Zealand and Australia offer great price advantages over domestic. For a long time pork was sold as the lean “other white meat.” Has pork gotten better--and fatter-- since then? Absolutely. With the advent of clean pork much like the Niman ranch program, you can now get really great naturally raised pork that is marbled and very flavorful. The animals have to be raised outdoors in fresh air on pasture. The hogs also need to derive heritage breed genetics Like Berkshire, Duroc, Tamworth, Gloucester Old Spot (right). The industrial indoor raised hog is a hybrid that is devoid of fat. Cross breeds of heritage hogs actually do fatten. They do marble.


   Can cattle fed on grass exclusively ever attain the marbled fat that corn-fed cattle can? We do not believe so. The increase in marbling comes really only when the cattle are introduced to grains. That is what puts on the     marbling. However in late fall our grass-fed animals from upstate NY have high choice marbling. Not Prime but impressive nonetheless.


  Is there really any benefit to aging carcasses longer than 28 days? That depends on your preference. In terms of tenderness I think that 28-day by and large does the trick. Longer aging, especially on products that have    a high fat content such as Wagyu beef or Prime, can add a lot to the flavor if one wants to take on the expense.


  Should antibiotics ever be used with cattle? Animals can and should be raised without antibiotics. It is possible to do this. That being said, when an animal is sick they should be    treated. It is the right thing to do. Commodity feedlots, with high density and aggressive fattening programs, result in sick cattle. So antibiotics are introduced before they get    sick. This is the practice that is used extensively in poultry and hog farming, as well, which has resulted in antibiotic resistance in humans. The practice is being outlawed as we    speak. The FDA gave industry three years to eliminate the practice. Then, the only reason an animal gets antibiotics will be when it does get sick. Not before. And not as a general practice.


Does the industry still use steroids on cattle? Yes, the industry is still using hormones to a great extent. By giving hormones to a young steer, it will fatten far faster, within 14-18 months, but the resulting meat is not better. It may be fatty but the muscle flavor is lacking. Animals fattened slowly without hormones mature physiologically with and have a fuller muscle flavor. Can veal be humanely raised? Yes it can. Today’s formula-fed calves are very often raised in group housing environments (left). This was always the big problem; the way that they were in the past raised was in crates.