During Portuguese colonial times, the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil split its economy between agriculture and mining. Workers at the mines often brought their own food into the depths of the mines. A simple white cheese nicknamed minas (Portuguese for “mine”) became a particular favorite because it was easy to make a home and versatile in the kitchen. The name stuck and the cheese called “minas” is now an important part of the Brazilian diet.
In the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, an hour on the bullet train northwest of Tokyo, a Brazilian cheesemaker named Vilmar brought minas to Japan. He immigrated as a carpenter over 25 years ago, but had experience with cheesemaking. While in Japan, he continued making cheese at home and shared it with friends. With consistent positive feedback, Vilmar decided to make cheese for a living.
In 2002, Vilmar started his first cheese factory in Toyama. As demand increased, finding enough quality milk became a challenge. Vilmar moved his cheesemaking business to Gunma Prefecture and started working with Matsui Ranch in Ota City, Gunma. Matsui Ranch was a perfect fit because of the quality of their milk and their breeding and feeding practices. Happy cows grazing freely on the land was a recognized link to quality cheese.
Vilmar wanted to make a cheese that would appeal to Japanese palettes, so he reduced the salinity and improved the mouth feel of minas. The cheese can be found at the Vilmilk food truck at the weekly Aoyama Farmer’s Market in front of the UN University in Tokyo. Vilmar grills the fresh cheese, making minas a delicious farmer’s market snack. Alongside minas are small cheesecakes, cream cheese, cheese gnocchi, cheese bread and cream caramel. Each is a delicious fusion of Brazil and Japan.
Check out the profile on Vilmilk’s Minas Cheese here.