Furano is a major draw for Hokkaido’s tourists in both winter and summer. When the snow is deep and the powder pristine, the town fills with families and ski bums alike. In the warmer months, especially the middle of July, tourists descend in droves to the picture-perfect lavender fields nearby.
The town rests in a valley with steep mountains to one side and rolling hills on the other. On one long hill is Furano Cheese Factory, catering to tourists in search of Hokkaido-made cheese. Through a little education, delicious food, and a beautiful location, Furano’s tourists leave with a full belly and an appreciation for Hokkaido cheese production.
At Furano Cheese Factory, cheese is ever-present from the moment guests walk in. The glass window at the entrance looks onto the cheesemaking room. Visitors can watch as milk is set, curds are cut, and molds are filled. From the next window, it’s possible to see cheeses being wrapped and packaged. The upstairs resembles a little cheese museum with exhibits about international cheeses. Learn about the history of dairy and cheese in Japan, play cheese-themed games and take pictures with a life-sized milking cow. In the gift shop, three kinds of cheese are available to taste.
What I was most excited to try was Furano Cheese Factory’s squid ink cheese. From the outside, the round looks like a camembert, all white and pillowy. However, as soon as it’s sliced, the pitch-black interior creates a dramatic contrast. At this moment, the phrase “black as ink” is an honest description. For the Japanese, to whom squid ink is a relatively flavorless and common ingredient in pastas, breads and sauces, a black cheese isn’t off-putting. For Westerners, it looks down-right sinister.
Furano Cheese Factory makes other interesting cheeses as well: onion gouda, Furano wine marbled gouda, Camembert, butter and milk. In the attached pizza parlor, the cheeses are ready for prepped taste buds. Pizzas are topped with fresh mozzarella and made to order. For dessert, homemade soft cream waits nearby. The soft cream shop is not hard to find with the steady stream of people walking out distractedly, eyes on their milky-white treat.
Furano Cheese Factory also offers cheesemaking classes, but doesn’t do tours. We didn’t have the opportunity here to meet with the cheesemakers, being a larger commercial operation that mainly caters to one-time visitors. So we simply enjoyed tasting the unique selection of cheeses and blending in with the crowd.