The archetypical flavors of Japanese cuisine include dashi, soy sauce, mirin, ponzu, Japanese mayonnaise and the brown sauce that covers okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Never to be left out is miso. An ingredient so essential that it accompanies every meal, preserves vegetables out of season, and flavors an array of dishes to make them healthier and irresistible.
Miso is made from fermented Japanese soy beans. In traditional production, miso is aged in large cedar wood vats with stones piled on top to encourage a slow fermentation over several months. The flavor distinctness between traditional and modern miso production parallels the differences between artisan and processed cheeses. Processed miso is just not as delicious or healthy!
A flavor so connected to Japan’s food culture is also remarkably good with cheese. A few cheesemakers noticed this on their own and brought the flavors of Japan to their craft. Cheeses are mixed with miso, preserved in miso, aged in miso, or simply covered in miso for the extra flavor effect. Each one creates its own fermented flavor explosion.
Handa Farm’s Miso Orchard, Hokkaido
Orchard, one of Handa Farm’s three cheeses, is aged for 3 months before a second round of aging in miso for 6 months. This cheese is made through a collaboration with the long-established miso producer, Tamuraya. The miso is deliciously tangy, and salty, but with a lingering sweetness. The cheese absorbs the flavors of the miso, becoming richer as the flavor deepens.
Orchard is packed in the same miso to help preserve the cheese and allow the flavors to continue developing. Chunks of the miso-smothered Orchard paired beautifully with slices of apple. The tartness of the apple brought out the tangy-sweetness of the miso perfectly.
Nagato Farm’s Miso Cheese Cubes, Nagano
This miso cheese is light and approachable, with less of the heady fermented flavors. It is delivered in pre-cut cubes of gouda cheese that make the enjoyment of it effortless. Nagato Farm uses the traditionally made Suyamo miso from Shinshu, a local Nagano miso producer. Nagato Farm loves pairing its cheese with a complementary fermented food. They recommend chopping it and putting it in onigiri (rice balls) or over rice. Or simply grab some toothpicks and enjoy alongside beer, shochu, or sake.
Fromagerie Alpage’s Miso Mozzarella, Tokyo
Fromagerie Alpage is first and foremost a cheese shop, but they also make some fresh cheeses in house. The miso is hand ground and smothers the mozzarella. It is a stronger miso with a very light and chewy mozzarella cheese. Enjoy it like the Japanese: slice it, add a little soy sauce and dig in with chopsticks. Or make a Japanese caprese salad with colorful daikon.