With beef prices haven risen steeply in recent years, consumers are becoming more selective about what they buy. For many people, beef has become something of a luxury, so that it makes little sense to settle for something less than spectacular when the moment comes to splurge. Instead, American diners are paying more attention to the cuts of beef they buy, their quality, and even the breeds of cattle they come from.

This became something of a phenomenon not long ago thanks to some aggressive marketing on the part of the beef ranching industry. The Angus cattle that were already widespread across much of the country, it should be said, do frequently produce some spectacular beef. It was something like a stroke of genius, then, when someone tasked with improving the fortunes of America's ranchers discovered how that already widespread situation could be turned into a mark of distinction.

Since then, American beef buyers have become even more attuned to such issues of provenance and lineage. Today, more buyers than ever seek out Wagyu steaks, hoping to thereby guarantee a level of quality and flavor that would be impossible to obtain by other means.

It is easy to see why so many people have come to believe this. Unlike the relatively abstract advantages that beef consumers are told to expect when buying Angus, Wagyu beef makes an immediate visual impression. Filet Mignon from ranches like Lone Mountain Wagyu are marbled to an almost unbelievable degree, with a white fleck of internal fat seemingly standing alongside every strand of muscle.

That makes beef of this kind incredibly tender and flavorful. Unlike in lean beef, beef with such impressive marbling virtually melts in the mouth, as the short muscle fibers are basted throughout the process of cooking in fat. All that internal fat also means far more in the way of flavor, too, with many diners describing the overall effect as being like eating a special kind of butter.

With beef prices having climbed so much, it might be expected that the average diner would be forced to forgo such pleasures. In fact, though, the recent price environment has actually made this distinctive kind of beef more affordable, in relative terms. While the price of Wagyu has climbed alongside that of everyday beef, it has done so more slowly. That has left many beef lovers, faced with paying a little extra in either case, opting for the beef that will deliver the most extraordinary experience possible.