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Concord Monitor – BUSINESS: Hilltop Farm in Mason offers New England Wagyu

The words “Wagyu beef” bring to mind expensive, high-quality cuts of beef at an upscale Japanese restaurant. And although Wagyu translates to “Japanese cattle,” residents of the Monadnock region can get authentic Wagyu beef raised locally from New England Wagyu, the products of which can be found at their Hilltop Farm store in Mason.

“My husband and I got into the Wagyu beef business because we were very curious about where our food came from,” says co-owner Diana Templeton. “Not only that – this may sound strange – but we wanted to know what breed of animal we are eating.”

When it comes to beef, “of course you see Angus in the store so often,” she said. “The Angus industry has done a very good job promoting that breed. So we started looking into that.”

They settled on Wagyu because of its rich flavor and relative scarcity in the United States. Wagyu is known for its higher fat content, which is more evenly distributed throughout the piece of meat, resulting in the distinctive ‘marbling’ that Wagyu is known for.

Authentic Japanese Wagyu, bred in Japan to strict standards, can be difficult to obtain in the United States, but it is possible – albeit expensive. There are farms that specialize in what is known as the American Wagyu, although these cows are usually crossbred with American breeds and not raised to the same standards as the Japanese Wagyu.

What makes New England Wagyu different is that they use imported, purebred Japanese cattle raised to official standards, resulting in beef that is comparable to Japanese Wagyu – at a price comparable to the beef at the local supermarket.

Like the Japanese Wagyu, New England Wagyu cattle are raised free-range and pastured on a special mixture of food that is divided into specific portions throughout the day. Livestock leading a healthy, stress-free lifestyle is important for beef quality.

Templeton emphasized that animal care was important to herself and her husband, co-owner Sam Rowse.

“It was important to us to raise our animals on pasture, rather than in nasty cages,” she said.

To this end, Rowse and Templeton have put together a loyal, enthusiastic team of employees who work hard to ensure the cattle live a good life from calf to adult cow.

Brian and Cheryl Moran, the managers of Hilltop Farm in Mason, found themselves raising Wagyu beef after leaving their healthcare jobs during the pandemic.

“COVID really just broke us,” said Cheryl, a former healthcare provider at Lawrence General Hospital in Massachusetts. Cheryl, who rode horses with Templeton, visited Hilltop Farm a day after COVID cleared and said she never wanted to leave after cuddling the sheep.

The farm, Rowse’s former childhood home, was vacant at the time – until the Morans received an offer to live in the farm and help oversee Rowse and Templeton’s operations.

Cheryl decided, after seeing that her mandatory overtime prevented her from working eight to sixteen hours a day, that she would accept the offer if Brian agreed. When he heard that this meant she could quit her stressful job, he was all for it – even though neither of them had ever driven a tractor before.

Brian, a former firefighter and paramedic, said that while he was passionate about his past life, the stress of COVID made him reconsider his career path.

“It’s that conflict – you have to go to work to be with your people, but it was just terrible,” he said.

In addition to helping raise the cows and maintaining the farm, Brian is also passionate about helping former first responders like himself. Last year a documentary, ‘First Responders in Crisis’, was filmed at Hilltop Farm.

New England Wagyu is available at Hilltop Farm at 42 Valley Road in Mason. New England Wagyu Sales and Marketing Specialist Morgaine O’Connor sells Wagyu every Wednesday at 3pm at local markets such as the Peterborough Farmers’ Market

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