Innovative Hastings meat company First Light has suddenly become the little mouse that roared by claiming two major steak awards in less than a month, including a rare win for New Zealand beef overseas.
Its grass-fed Wagyu rib-eye, from a Taranaki farm and processed for the company in Hamilton, won a gold medal at the World Steak Challenge which ended in London on July 4, just three weeks after the company won New Zealand's Best of Brand title, one of the two major titles in the Steak of Origin at the National Agricultural Fieldays on June 13.
It was the first time New Zealand had featured among the medal winners in the four years of the World Steak Challenge, which drew entries from 22 countries, covering 35 breeds.
Top honours went to a Danish company, but First Light was among the winners of 45 gold medals, one of which was won by fellow New Zealand company Alliance, which also claimed a bronze medal.
Setting the standard though was Denmark's JN Meat International, which was judged by a panel of industry experts, meat scientists, butchers and food journalists to have produced the world's best steak, a grass-fed Ayrshire sirloin. Last year the top honour went to a grain-fed Limousin-cross sirloin from Poland.
The event is designed to benchmark the quality of beef production against international competitors and establish a quality mark that is globally trusted.
Comprehensive international criteria included technical testing of both the raw and cooked meat, appearance, aroma, colour, marbling and consistency of fat trim. Judges sampled the cooked steak for tenderness, flavour and succulence.
Founded in 2003 by managing director Gerard Hickey and Hawke's Bay throughout, First Light has developed as a niche exporter of beef and venison, introducing a New Zealand retail range in 2016.
With significant proportions from Hawke's Bay farms First Light grass-fed Wagyu is available at selected supermarkets and gourmet food stores.
General manager sales and marketing Jason Ross said described the success as "kind of cool" and added: "We've never made a great noise, we're just starting to toot our horn and telling our story.
"To have a New Zealand beef product recognised internationally is tremendous," he said.
"We haven't had a great reputation, but we have got some of the very best growing conditions. The world needs to know that."
"Grass-fed Wagyu is the king of beef," he said. "It's juicy, tender and healthy. And we raised it right here on New Zealand grass. Kiwis should be very proud of that."