Cheese-Flavored Miso Made by Uncompromising Brothers -2
Visiting Koike Koji’s Storehouse
Huge containers full of Koike Koji’s miso are located in its storehouse in the mountain heights. Stones of a little larger than a palm’s size were put inside the containers to weight them down. Each miso container looks as if it has been sleeping in silence. During summer, the miso’s ingredients put together the previous spring will be fermented with their own strength.
Hisayuki opened one container. When I approached the opened cover, a smell of alcohol and fresh cheese came out. After a little while the alcoholic smell was gone, and the fresh cheese smell became stronger. Yeast fungus was helping the miso be fermented.
In Europe, there are some cheeses that smell like miso or Japanese pickles. Those cheeses go very well with sake. My assumption is this miso-used cuisine goes with wine well! Cheese is also fermented food. From a viewpoint of cheese, it smells like miso; the other way around, miso smells like cheese. The east and the west meet through fermentation. Even if science does not completely reveal the mechanism of this process it is realized by the activities of microorganisms: natural fermentation without any added flavors or preservatives.
The Advantages of a Small Store
Koike Koji has blended into the Kiso local community, raised recognition, increased production and expanded sales over 20 years. It seems to be the result of the efforts made by the brothers and Mieko. Hisayuki said he did almost anything in order to sell their miso. “Of course I had to go through bitter experiences. But I learned a lot from them. Recently, finally, I don’t have to ask buyers to buy at their preferable price,” Hisayuki said. “I would rather be grateful that customers who understand and are happy with us buy our products.”
Value-added koji malt products are appreciated on one hand, and the consumption of miso paste is decreasing in Japan on the other. We see that the annual per household miso purchase was 12 kg in 1982 to 5.8 kg, less than half by 2016. In particular, small miso stores are on the decline. In Nagano, where people produce and consume a lot of miso, there were 245 small-sized miso companies in 1963; the number dropped to 143, a 40 % decrease, by 2010. The owners of a small business have to do everything on their own, from production to promotion and sales. It requires funding and manpower. When you are among many small miso businesses which have not survived, it is not easy to continue business. That’s why a small but unique business that produces authentic products in a regional area sparkles. “Since we are a small business we can take actions freely, putting our uniqueness to the forefront,” Hisayuki said.
Boil-in-the-bag miso and powdered miso are more popular in the market these days. Still, authentic fresh miso is special in taste and flavor. If you try these uncompromising brothers’ miso, whether you are Japanese or not, your sense of taste may be upgraded! In addition, making miso soup is quite easy: put two pinches of flaked dried bonito in a cup, put some miso on it, pour in some hot water and stir. You don’t have to add anything else.
Miso today is well-known in many countries outside Japan, but the benefits and recipes of it can still be further explored. Miso’s potential is huge!
“I want to make good quality miso at any cost. I am a miso producer, and I am proud of it. I want to make a difference from those who care about only the ingredients. I care about how we make it. The fermentation process is very important when it comes to making the final product good,” Hisayuki said. “I like communicating with those who are happy about our products. Conveying our earnestness to more people is my utmost joy lately.”
Photos offered by 小池糀店
Text by Motomi Takahashi