Hiking in the Alps, whether European or Japanese, requires a well-fueled picnic. Most of my experiences in the Swiss-French Alps as a kid included a hearty lunch in a field. It always included some salami, bread, a chunk of hard cheese, and a knife. Because smell is so intricately connected to memory and experience, one whiff of Gruyere or a Tomme de Savoie can transport me back to those grassy slopes. When I cut into one particular Japanese cheese, suddenly, my small Tokyo apartment opened to the mountains.
Grande Shintoko is as close to an alpage-style mountain cheese as it gets in Japan. From a small valley in Hokkaido, it is made with the best milk of the past summer and aged up to a year. The rind is splotched with deep rust-colored reds, nutty browns, and small blooms of grey and white molds. The colors seep through the thin rind into a paste radiating warmth and nuttiness. It tastes of buttery, toasted cashews and finishes deep and long.
Now that summer is here, it’s time to grab some dried meats, a sturdy knife, and a chunk of Grande Shintoko before wandering into the mountains.