Cheese-Flavored Miso Made by Uncompromising Brothers -1
NAGANO – Miso is one of Japan’s most essential condiments. Did you know there are three categories of miso? It can be based on rice, barley or soybeans. Rice miso is the most prevalent type, consisting of rice malt, salt and soybeans. Boiled soybeans and salt are mixed together, and then rice malt is added. After blending the three ingredients, the mixture stays in a container to be fermented. Japanese families used to make miso at home. That’s why there are innumerable kinds of miso. People say there are as many kinds of miso as there are households across the nation. The Japanese phrase “Temae Miso” means a braggart these days, but this expression derives from the self-admiration of a family who believes they make the best, tastiest miso.
Even today, the kinds of miso made by professional manufacturers are too many to count. Among them, a small miso store in Kiso region in Nagano Prefecture exhibits its distinctive originality. Koike Koji Store near the Nakasendo, a Tokyo-Kyoto highway in the Edo period, produces miso that smells like fresh cheese! When you use this miso for miso soup, it’s thick enough that you don’t need to add anything to it. Dashi broth and this miso together make a perfect simple soup. In the last couple of sips, you will probably detect a sweet, flowery odor at the bottom of the cup. Why on earth does this floral smell come out of this brown miso?
A Little Store in a Mountainous Area
Nagano Prefecture, which is located in the middle of Japan’s main island, Honshu, is also known by its old name, “Shinshu.” This place is famous for miso production as well as its high-volume consumption. There are several major miso manufacturers, and the prefecture’s miso production came to about half of the nation’s production in 2014. In 2014 and 2015, the prefecture’s per capita annual miso consumption ranked the highest in Japan. The most recent record, 2017, shows that Nagano’s per capita annual miso consumption is the third highest among the nation’s 47 prefectures. In other words, people love miso there!
It’s here that the Koike Koji miso store has been operating for over 140 years. With the fresh, cheesy miso and sweet fermented amazake rice drink, both made of home-made rice malt, today this little store is enjoying popularity. However, the path to this point was never easy.
Until about 30 years ago, Miki Karasawa, then wife of Kiso’s Town Mayor, managed this store. Due to her age and her children doing other jobs, business at the store was declining. A man living in this town named Noboru Kamimura followed his dream of working in the miso business and bought the store. The work was nothing like his former job, but soon enough he got used to the business. Unfortunately, by the time he was in a position to operate the store well, he fell ill and was in and out of hospital. In 1998, Noboru passed away. His wife Mieko intended to take over the store, but she had another full-time job and found it difficult to focus on miso-making. Nobody else was there to succeed the store. Mieko was confused and had to ask herself whether she should discontinue the store, which had a history stretching back over a hundred years. It was during this struggle that a small miracle happened.