The clouds rested softly on the lowest hills around Shintoku, hiding the forest-covered mountains. We alighted the train and it continued into the shrouded landscape. Waiting for us at the town station was Nozomu Miyajima, the friendly CEO and cheese master at Kyodogakusha. We felt immediately welcome at our first stop in Hokkaido.
Having tried many of Kyodogakusha’s cheeses and been impressed by them all, this was the farm I was most excited about. Kyodogakusha is nestled on a hillside in the rural town of Shintoku. It is not only a dairy but a biodynamic farm that provides work for people who might find difficulty working in a traditional setting. Their award-winning cheeses are not just good for business but for the local community.
Thirty Acres and a Promise
Almost 40 years ago, Nozomu Miyajima moved to the US to work on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. After 2 years on the farm, he enrolled in the dairy sciences program at Wisconsin University. Instead of staying in the US, Miyajima returned to Japan to open a dairy farm on 30 acres gifted to him by the Shintoku government. The only catch was that he would provide work for people in the community who might otherwise be unemployable.
Since then, Kyodogakusha has expanded to 150 hectares, including a diary, cheesemaking facilities, a biodynamic farm, and workers’ residences. The farm is self-sustaining except for fish and rice. It pays wages and funds projects through cheese sales and donations. There is also a gift shop and cafe on site with a cheese-filled menu, local crafts, and books on biodynamics. Make sure to try the soft cream made with whey from the dairy!
A Higher Consciousness
Every detail has been considered at Kyodogakusha. By following biodynamic practices and principles they stay in tune with the land. They also consciously promote healthy microorganisms and the positive flow of energy. By encouraging good bacteria and regularly sprinkling charcoal powder, even the barn where the cows live is free of the usual manure-stench one associates with dairies.
Miyajima strongly believes that the best way to fight disease and bad bacteria is by promoting good microorganisms on the farm. This removes the need for regular sterilization and the use of antibiotics with the herd. All throughout the farm, it is clear that Kyodogakusha operates under the conviction that working in unison with natural forces is better than attempting to control them.
One of the most beautiful ways Kyodogakusha works alongside nature is in the cheese room. The cheesemaking building consists of multiple levels, like steps down the hill. The milk flows naturally from one step to the next through each subsequent step of production.
From the milking parlor to the cooling room and down to where the curds are set and cut, very little machinery is used to move the milk and curds. Milk is pasteurized for fresh cheeses, and raw milk is used for aged ones. Strategically placed charcoal blocks under the floor promote the flow of positive energy in the milk. Miyajima is detailed and enthusiastic when explaining the flow of energy in the milk creates a better cheese. Even the composition of the floors is designed in detail, containing fragments of ceramic and charcoal in the laid concrete.
Following the natural flow of the milk into cheese, the last step is down into the aging caves. To maintain a constant temperature and humidity around 80%, the caves were built with local materials under a layer of soil and grass. Each of the 4 caves is used for cheeses at different stages of maturation. The cave with the aged cheeses gives off a distinct smell of ammonia while the young cheese cave smells sweet and milky. Almost all cheeses are aged on wooden boards made from local Japanese cypress.
Kyodogakusha is a cheesemaker worth watching. They have their eye on expansion and maybe even exports. As one of the most recognizable cheesemakers in Japan, Kyodogakusha oozes potential with high quality products and innovation in every project. They also encorporate Japanese materials in almost every cheese, expressing terroir and a sense of place, while providing work for local residents. Kyodogakusha believes that it is important to pay attention to the “small things and the small people.” If you do, it will benefit everyone.