Behind the scenes of the World’s Best Steak: a trip to Jack’s Creek

Australian beef is amongst the best in the world, that much has been known for years, but interest has recently been jolted by a substantial award handed out at last year’s inaugural World Steak Challenge, which was held in London early October. That award was the title of World’s Best Steak, and it was claimed by a relatively modest family-owned farm just outside of Tamworth, in Willow Tree, owned by producers Jack’s Creek, their 450-day grain fed Wagyu cross striploin besting 70 other steaks from 10 other countries in a tightly controlled, panel-judged competition to emerge the champion. The result comes to no surprise for people who have actually tasted the exceptional produce that comes from Jack’s Creek, who are at the forefront of Australian premium beef production and have been for years.

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Jack’s Creek Wagyu prepared was Wagyu Tataki at Graze Restaurant & Bistro

The Jack’s Creek farm is a short drive from one of regional NSW’s most awarded restaurant, Graze Restaurant & Bistro, at accommodation stop-over Willow Tree Inn. It’s here where I was to get my first taste of Jack’s Creek beef (to my knowledge; many Sydney restaurants serve it irrespective of whether it’s listed as such or not) with Head Chef Sabi Pabla preparing it as a both a massive (and I do mean massive) medium-rare steak and a platter of Wagyu tataki. Rich, salty, and intense, the Wagyu tataki was hands down the best thing I have eaten in months and it wasn’t before long that I had greedily went back for seconds, thirds, fourths, and even fifths.

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Jack’s Creek Wagyu Steak

The fatty, giant steak was packed full of flavour, intense and superbly sweet, but eating almost half a platter of tataki does have it’s down sides: I wasn’t able to finish the generous cut despite my best attempt. There are no surprises here as to how Jack’s Creek managed the best some of the world’s greatest producers to become the best.

As I sliced and chewed my way through the steak, sitting opposite me was David and Phillip Warmoll, heads of the family behind Jack’s Creek who, 26 years ago, were ridiculed for even wanting to get into the Wagyu business, the premium beef being exclusive to Japan prior to 1990. Hearing them recount the challenges faced trying to get this market started in Australia makes it all the more impressive that the country is now the largest producer and processor of the breed.

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David and Phillip Warmoll; Image supplied

Due to a lack of trade agreements with Japan back then, the Warmoll men were to start their Wagyu business with a mix of chance and determination. Phillip happened upon an article in the New York Times when in a doctor’s waiting room, indicating that some Wagyu had been brought over from Japan to the University of Texas, opening up access to the family to bring the genetics to Australia. To steal a cliche: the rest is history.

Now the family stand at the forefront of a movement they helped build from the ground up, specialist beef producers who ship to more than 20 destinations around the world, including Japan, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Japan, and Germany. “At this stage, the markets are the same for both our grain fed Wagyu and Angus as they are sold into markets which appreciate the sweetness of the grain fed flavour of beef”, said Phillip’s son Patrick – who handles the branding and marketing – when asked about whether or not these markets have shifted recently. “Restaurants and households alike are discovering the many ways to cook or unlock the flavour of Wagyu. Therefore demand for Wagyu worldwide is increasing, particularly for non-loin cuts such as chuck, brisket, and leg cuts”.

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On site at Jack’s Creek Willow Tree farm (officially known as Big Jack’s Creek)

Sydney is also the largest domestic market for the farm, with many top restaurants around the city benefiting from having Jack’s Creek beef on the menu. When asked which of these Phillip feels showcase Jack’s Creek beef in the best way possible, he told me Felix (CBD) and Bovine & Swine (Enmore), LuMi Bar & Dining (Pyrmont), BLACK by ezard (Pyrmont), and Aria (Circular Quay) were his top five, demonstrating Jack’s Creek’s versatility in distinct ways.

Sydneysiders can also grab the beef for home-cooking from Haverick Meats’ Saturday market in Banksmeadow.

Of course, this demand for Jack’s Creek makes sense given their recent win, which is still making waves in the local beef industry. “From the beginning the support and commendation was electric”, Phillip said, speaking to the immediate reaction after the World’s Best Steak accolade. “The appreciation of good steak is understood by people from all walks of life. People from households to our competitors contacted us to extend congratulations. It was a very humbling experience.”

It’s also a result they’ll be seeking to recreate this year as they prepare to enter the challenge again. Another win would further highlight the rapidly growing market and demand for Australian Wagyu, which Phillip believes over the next five years will see Wagyu cattle bred all over Australia.

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Image supplied

The demand is certainly indicated by the recent numbers of the annual Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) at Lovedale in the Hunter Valley. Over 400 delegates turned up to the most recent one, making it the largest conference ever and adding credence to the so-called “Wagyu Revolution” being whispered all over the country.

So, how do Jack’s Creek arrive at the point where they are producing such high quality Wagyu? Patrick explains that the traditional method for producing grain-fed Wagyu originates in Japan, where the cattle are housed and fed ration based diets for their whole lives. This method was shifted by the Australian Wagyu Industry which, from the outset, broke tradition by grazing the Wagyu cattle on natural pastures for the first part of their lives instead, made possible because Australia has these vast areas of prime agricultural land that lends to this up-scale in Wagyu production.

The cross bred Wagyu cattle are also grain fed for 450 days with no added hormones on a specially designed diet of feed grains to generate the highly marbled characteristics that give the beef it’s intensely rich flavour.

“To enable Wagyu cattle to produce elite beef excellent nutrition, health and a stress free life cycle is necessary otherwise, the Wagyu beef will simply not perform.” says Patrick. “In other words, not all Wagyu are Wagyu and in my personal opinion Wagyu cattle must be grain fed for the beef to fully express its flavour potential.”

For more information on Jack’s Creek head to their official website HERE.

Headline image supplied and used with permission