To promote the use of U.S. pork butt for traditional Japanese cooking, the U.S. Meat Export Federation's Japan office recently conducted a U.S. pork recipe contest for consumers. Support for the contest was provided by the Pork Checkoff and the USDA Market Access Program.
In Japan, pork butt is more commonly used in home cooking than in restaurant dishes. So by encouraging everyday consumers to develop and showcase original pork butt recipes, this contest was aimed at building awareness of the pork butt and allowing homemakers to share fresh ideas with their fellow consumers. To raise the profile of the recipe contest, USMEF used advertorials in the Asahi newspaper and lifestyle magazine Orange Page, as well as online ads on the food and lifestyle website Bon Marche.
From more than 1000 applications, USMEF selected one grand prize winner to receive a one-year supply of U.S. pork. The winning recipe was American pork butt with plum wine and Japanese herbs.
"Plum wine is quite popular in Japan, and my mother used to make it herself," said grand prize winner Yukari Harada. "I still clearly remember the taste of my mother's plum wine, which was given by a small one-bite cup as a medicine when I had a stomach ache, and I really loved it. My mother also used her plum wine for cooking, which inspired me to develop my own plum wine recipe using U.S. pork butt."
An American Pork Ambassador Prize was also awarded, with the winner receiving an invitation to participate in the U.S. pork butt cooking demonstration at the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in November.
The winning recipe for the American Pork Ambassador Prize was for hitsu-mabushi – a dish traditionally made with grilled eel, rice and Japanese herbs.
"Hitsu-mabushi is a very popular item in my home area of Aichi prefecture," said prize winner Kaori Ishibashi. "My husband likes hitsu-mabushi very much, but eel is expensive and too high in cholesterol for his health. So I always prepare hitsu-mabushi with American pork butt, and serve it to my family about once a week."
The chief judge of the contest was Tenkichi-Kachan, one of Japan's most famous and influential cooking bloggers with a following of about 120,000 readers per day. Tenkichi-Kachan often features U.S. pork recipes on her blog and discusses the positive attributes of U.S. pork products.
The prize-winners, along with nine other recipes selected from the contest entries, will be featured in newspaper and magazine ads in October to further promote creative uses of U.S. pork butt for Japanese home cooking.
Beginning late last year, USMEF launched a global initiative aimed at expanding marketing opportunities and increasing consumer awareness of the pork butt – a cut that grades very well in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavor, but is often underutilized and under-represented in the retail meat case.
"This recipe contest is an excellent way of raising consumer interest in the pork butt," said USMEF Senior Marketing Director Takemichi Yamashoji. "It is especially gratifying to see our contest winners tout U.S. pork butt as a healthy and affordable alternative for traditional Japanese cooking."
Japan is perennially the leading value market for U.S. pork exports, and 2011 is shaping up to be another outstanding year. Exports to Japan in 2011 (including variety meat) have already broken the $1 billion mark for the seventh consecutive year and are on pace to exceed last year's export value record of $1.65 billion. Through July, exports totaled 287,466 metric tons (633.8 million pounds) valued at $1.1 billion – an increase of 11% in volume and 14% in value over last year.