Cheese-Flavored Miso Made by Uncompromising Brothers -2
NAGANO – Although miso is made by human beings, it cannot achieve high quality through the efforts of human beings alone. The natural environment, especially the climate, significantly affects the outcome. Koike Koji’s miso storehouse is located on highlands about 800 meters above sea level. This is a mountainous area at the foot of Mt. Komagatake. Their miso is fermented for two years right here. The temperature can drop to minus 15C from December through February. Even in the summer, the average temperature is about 22C, usually with cool and dry weather. The average annual temperature is 10C, much lower than Tokyo’s 16C.
The Natural Environment of the Kiso Region
As this region is surrounded by mountains, there is no nearby sea. These conditions made it difficult for local people to obtain salt a long time ago. Rice wasn’t produced much due to the low temperature. For people at that time, rice was valuable; therefore, the idea of using rice for koji rice malt was beyond luxury.
Fermented food has been well-received over the past several years, and Japan has been trying to revitalize its regions with the theme of fermentation. While each region has a different trait, the Kiso region is unique as it started local fermentation without koji rice malt or salt, both of which are the usual main items for “standard” fermentation.
Kiso’s local pickles, called “sunki,” don’t also use salt, which is rare among Japanese pickles. This red radish pickle is very sour as it is well fermented by plant lactobacillus. Even if you experience high blood pressure, you don’t have to worry about this one. Sunki is one of the ways that people in the old time managed without salt or rice. This pickling method has been passed down for generations.
Without rice or salt, the essential way to produce good fermented food was low temperature. “The coldness in this region is important. Thanks to the coldness in the middle of a mountain valley, fermenting degradation is quite advantageous,” said Hisayuki. “Fermentation culture is not huge here, but it’s unique.”
In a bid to convey their fermentation culture to a wider audience, the Kiso local municipality and Tokyo University of Agriculture together with Koike Koji teamed up to hold an event called “Hakko no Gakko” (School of Fermentation). This September marked its tenth annual event. Not only local fermentation but also global fermentation cultures are introduced academically. Participants can also enjoy fermented cuisine. This event, which started in 2015, has grown to become a draw for visitors from other prefectures.