Cheese-Flavored Miso Made by Uncompromising Brothers -2
The Method of Local Miso Balls
Koike Koji uses soybeans in their miso-making. In the regular process, boiled soybeans will be mixed with koji and salt and the blend is fermented in a container. The brothers’ special method is different: they use steamed soybeans without using salt in the first phase. Steaming instead of boiling is to seal in the umami, avoiding the loss of its rich taste. Normally, salt is used for miso to prevent unwanted bacteria from growing there. If bacteria adhere to the cooked beans, they will go bad. At Koike Koji, steamed soybeans will be crushed at the beginning.
The cooked beans are hand-formed into balls about 10 centimeters in diameter. This is called a miso ball. These balls are left on shelves for one to two weeks so that fungus will grow and the beans will be fermented naturally. If you leave regular miso balls in the air like this, noxious bacteria would grow on them. But these balls at Koike Koji attract the halophobe fungus, which helps the umami taste gradually grow inside them.
“I don’t know why but unwanted bacteria don’t come in here. Even if I add nothing, the steamed soybean balls are fermented,” said Hisayuki. “It may be because of indigenous bacteria or clean air. Either way, no harmful substances stick to the miso balls placed on the open shelves.” At a favorable temperature, fluffy white fungus fully covers these balls in two weeks. This fungus growth is called the “flower.” These flowers are mucor hairy fungus. If the temperature is too high or too low, flowers won’t bloom. If the “blooming” doesn’t happen quickly, you could raise the temperature to encourage the fungus to grow. But the raising temperature is equivalent to spoiling the fungus. Natural growth means patience.
As the photos show, when the miso balls are covered by flowers, it’s ready to go to the next step. The flowers will be washed off, and koji rice malt and salt will be mixed into the crushed miso balls. The mixed ingredients will be put into a huge container and then be fermented for two years. This unique process is probably the key to generating the characteristic sweet, fresh-cheese-like smell. In the process of fermentation, when the temperature goes up the fungus becomes quite active; when the coldness arrives the fermentation will slow down, and the decomposition proceeds gradually. The mild taste of Koike Koji’s miso will be completed through this process.