Cheese may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering Japan’s rich culinary traditions—but as Malory Lane, an American expat and the founder of Japan Cheese Co., tells us, it’s part of a growing artisanal movement among regional producers who are finding ways to create experimental, umami-rich cheeses that are wholly Japanese.
You grew up in the U.S. and are now based in the Netherlands. When did you get into the world of cheese, and what initially drew you to Japan?
I was an Asian studies major and straight out of college moved to Japan to teach English. I lived for a couple of years in Niigata, which is the prefecture that’s most famous for having the best rice and sake, because it has some of the purest water in the country. After that, my now-husband and I were traveling quite a bit, and WWOOFing [doing homestays and working on organic farms as part of the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms]. We ended up on a goat farm in the Israeli desert in 2013, and got put in the cheesemaking room—I was so struck by it. It’s fascinating to see a product get made from start to finish. We would take the goats out to the oases in the desert to graze them, bring them back, then feed and milk them, and use that milk to make cheese. It’s really, really moving to see and work with that entire process.
How did you get involved with Japan’s community of cheesemakers, and what led to the start of Japan Cheese Co.?
I had this spark while in Israel, and thought, This is really cool, and I want to keep thinking about this. We moved back to Japan, to Tokyo, in 2016—my husband is a translator—and I was determined to continue exploring the world of cheese. It started by researching where I could find cheese in the city, then finding out that there are cheese shops. There’s one in Tokyo called Cheese No Koe (“The Voice of Cheese”) that only sells Japanese cheese, specifically cheeses from the northern island of Hokkaido. I’d go there and buy cheese, taste it, photograph it, and post it on Instagram between my Japanese classes. That’s when the first [iteration of] Japan Cheese Co. started: as a blog and a project to document my explorations, because I kept finding things that I knew other people didn’t know existed. It caught the attention of the cheese world quite a bit. As my Japanese got better, I met a number of cheesemakers, and also worked at a cheese shop in Tokyo for a year. I held events there, attended cheese awards—I consider myself as an ambassador to the Japanese cheese world.
Can you tell us more about the history and practice of cheesemaking in Japan? I would guess that it’s fairly recent, and likely a factor of globalization.
Globalization had a foot into it, but what most people don’t know is that even in the sixth century, there were cows and a small dairy-making culture in Japan. Most of those were white cows—like the Brahman cow associated with India—and came on the path with Buddhism to Japan. But the first time you really start seeing cheese coming into the Japanese diet is actually after World War II, when the U.S. occupied Japan, and they helped institute a school-lunch program to address malnutrition and food shortages. In it, they included cheese and a little carton of milk. At many Japanese schools, even now, they usually include a piece of cheese and a carton of milk in lunches, and it’ll be locally made. The other historical marker is 1964—the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which saw the first air freight of cheese come in from France, for the French athletes who said they wouldn’t go a month without cheese! [Laughs]
When it comes to regionality, terroir, and technique, how do these elements play out?
There’s not much regionality when it comes to cheese in Japan quite yet—at least not in the same way you see it in other parts of Japanese food culture, mostly because many of the cheesemakers are first-generation.
That said, there are cheesemakers who have become known for certain cheeses and experimenting quite a bit: In Hokkaido, there’s one group that makes a very special raclette, washed in local hot spring water—as opposed to the traditional brine, saltwater solution—that is full of minerals and natural enzymes. When it comes to microorganisms and cultures, there are cheesemakers in Japan who are doing it really uniquely. There’s one maker in Chiba who actually trained as a microbiologist. Years before she started making cheese, she had all these petri dishes of experiments for different cultures. There’s another cheesemaker who collaborates with a local sake brewery—he’ll take a bag of the leftover rice from sake production, and hold it in the milk while it’s fermenting, so a lot of the koji from that will seep into it and create a very different aroma. And then there are a lot of makers who are using what we think of as Japanese ingredients, washing them in umeshu plum wines, Japanese whisky, or wrapping it in shiso leaf, or aging them in different vinegars, like tamari or soy sauce. There’s a really good one out there, a soft cheese that’s wrapped in dried yuzu rinds.
That sounds delicious. Any chance those specialities will be available outside of Japan any time soon?
The thing with Japanese cheese—or at least all of these—is that the best, high-quality, artisanal cheeses are not being exported. Japan Cheese Co. had been working to do that this year, but the coronavirus has closed off a lot of the markets. It will probably be another couple of years, and for now, we’ll be focusing more on the education side of things. I love the juxtaposition that exists between most people’s idea of what Japan is, and what Japanese cuisine is. And then you have Japanese cheese. From a cultural, anthropological perspective, it’s simply fascinating.
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With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer has officially begun, and for many home-growers, this signifies the busiest Kitazawa Seed Company, founded in 1917 by a Japanese American family, sells some of the best, and offers more than 500 seed varieties of dento yasai, traditional heirloom varieties of a diverse array of Asian vegetables used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisines, Browse the extensive catalog to learn about all the delicious varieties, and pick up some recipes for dishes such as sunomono, a simple and refreshing cucumber salad, and kinpira gobo, a savory side of burdock root sautéed in sweet soy sauce.
Thirty to forty percent of perfectly good, fresh produce grown in the U.S. goes to waste each year simply due to bruisinTerroir in a Jar, a company with a serious mission to reduce food waste and put profits back into the hands of growers.
As the in-house chef for Vitsœ—the midcentury furniture manufacturer that’s been producing Dieter Rams designs since 1959—Will Leigh is a fixture who famous 606 modular shelving. Though much of the Vitsœ team has been working remotely these past several weeks, Leigh, along with a dozen or so esse
As we enter yet another week of social distancing in many cities throughout the U.S., home cooking, it seems, is here toGreat Jones, the direct-to-consumer startup co-founded by Grub Street alum Sierra Tishgart, makes a beautiful enamel cast-iron versThe Dutchess, in a range of cheery colors to brighten any kitchen drudgery. For the more minimalist or solo cook looking to save spaAlways Pan from Our Place is an ideal starter piece, with a ceramic non-stick coating and various nesting accessories that give it a multifunctioMisen’s durable seven-piece cookware set, designed by the Brooklyn studio Visibility, offers a clean, no-nonsense take, with ergonomic handles designed for comf
The ongoing Covid-19 closures have brought the unimaginable to so many local and small businesses across the country andFamily Meal, a site and Instagram account of recipe cards featuring dishes from their favorite local restaurants. All are available for download, with suggested bagna cauda from Popina, challah from The Lighthouse, and lou rou fan from Win Son.
Between homeschooling, working from home, and/or cooking at home more than ever, many of us are spending our days stayinan automated, open-source system called FarmBot that’s been slowly cultivating a fan base of users online. Controlled using an app, and assembled from a kit of parts, t
Daytime drinking is on the up—hey, it’s 5 p.m. somewhere (not that we can keep track of time these days, though the #HandMarkingTime Stories on our @slowdown.tv Instagram at least help us remember which day of the month it is). But if you prefer not to risk getting a hangover, or weakeningDram Apothecary makes a version of the increasingly popular drink in a range of flavors, such as cardamom and black tea, using CBD extrWild Mountain Sage) and switchels, as well as a set of CBD tinctures that you can either drop directly on your tongue, or add to any drink
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has put a sudden and massive halt on the restaurant industry: Bars, small businesses, mega-c“morbidly high business death rate.” (There’s an episode of our At a Distance podcast on this very subject with Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier coming out soon.) As wholesale restaurant suppliers now find their client bases on
As people everywhere settle into new home-cooking routines, finding resourceful ways to make their pantry goods stretch victory garden. Luckily for apartment dwellers without a backyard or access to much green space (more than half the world, basically), all you need is a corner of a countertop to grow some fresh herbs indoors. Better still, and for the botanEdn. The company makes wifi-controlled kits that come with a built-in LED grow light; simple seed pods for no-fuss, soillesSmall Garden order placed—a welcome reminder, in these uncertain times, that your efforts to stay indoors can make a difference for
Self-quarantine and social distancing in the age of the coronavirus are not to be taken lightly, and if, like us, you’refor your own safety and for the safety of others—you may be asking yourself what to stock your pantries with. Add to cart: DADA Daily, a line of tasty and healthy snacks that are neither heavy-handedly survivalist nor overprocessed and, not to mention, so don’t be that bulk-buying, toilet paper-stockpiling jerk.
As the daughter of Slow Food pioneer and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, Fanny Singer has had her share of Proustian Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories (Alfred A. Knopf), offers a warm and sensorial portrait of her mother, and of an upbringing that often revolved around
Dimes, the all-day café, bar, and market founded by Sabrina De Sousa and Alissa Wagner in downtown Manhattan, has always doneDimes Times: Emotional Eating (Karma Books)—which she says is the first in a series of more publications to come.
Rich Shih, founder of the blog Our Cook Quest and co-author of the forthcoming book Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation, is a self-taught cook and fermentation expert who makes everything from takuan pickles to fish sauce from scratch, twekoji, the source of umami in fermented ingredients like miso, soy sauce, mirin, and more.
South Korean cinema has been on everyone’s lips this week, in the afterglow of director Bong Joon-ho’s triumphant OscarsParasite, the grand finale to a months-long award spree that began with a Palme d’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival last year. making history in more ways than one. By his second acceptance speech, Bong, whose reactions were being duly memed, was ready to hit the bar. His exact words: “I’m ready to drink now, until the morning.” A total mood.
Zach Mangan, founder of the specialty Japanese tea importer, gallery, and café Kettl, tells us what to look, smell, and taste for in a top-quality matcha.