Little Eden

In the center of Shimosuwa (Nagano Prefecture), they are keeping a plot, surrounded by the town. As a matter of fact, when crouching or lying under the trees, one can feel in Eden. Mr. Hanaoka takes care of these few venerable trees. While I come from Normandy, I had never seen such large branches. Clover grows on the soil for microbial balance, rice straw, apple tree charcoal powder and oyster shell powder for mineral balance. A whitewash applied on the trunk protects it from the scorch of summer sun.

Suspended in branches, there are 1500 fruits in the 100-year old tree, and about 1300 in the 60-year old one! They represent the past however: too difficult to pick fruits, to manage the heterogeneity in ripening. Close by, we can see the present and future: Japanese grafts (or scions) on European rootstocks (from Holland, Italy or France), aligned in rows, forming vertical surfaces. The tree will stay small (meaning an easier job), but fruit production will decline after 20 about years. Meanwhile, what a feast of beautiful apples: Akibane, Hirosaki Fuji, Shinano Sweet. Mrs Hanaoka was welcoming us for a picnic ending with apple flavors.

Advertisements

Petit Eden

Au milieu de la ville de Shimosuwa (département de Nagano), ils gardent une parcelle. Il faut dire qu’accroupi sous les pommiers, on se croit en Eden. M.Hanaoka s’occupe tendrement de quelques pommiers vénérables, aux ramures les plus étendues que j’ai jamais vues (et je suis Normand !). Au sol, du trèfle pour l’équilibre microbien, de la paille de riz, de la poudre de charbon de bois de pommier et de la coquille d’huitre pour l’équilibre minéral. Sur le tronc un badigeon blanc pour protéger l’arbre de la morsure du soleil d’été. Pendant des branches, 1500 pommes sur l’arbre centenaire (!), 1300 dans celui qui n’a que 60 ans. Mais ils représentent le passé. Trop difficile de récolter, trop d’hétérogénéité dans le mûrissement des fruits. A coté, il y a le présent et le futur, des greffons japonais sur des pieds (porte-greffes) hollandais, italiens, français, plantés en rang et formant des plans. L’arbre, plus petit, ne donnera que pendant une vingtaine d’années. Mais en attendant, quels fruits! Akibane, Hirosaki Fuji, Shinano Sweet. Mme Hanaoka nous accueillait dans le verger pour un pique nique aux saveurs de pommes.

“Cousinade” (reunion of cousins)

In the land of Fungi, the Oryzae of the Aspergillus village and the Cerevisiae of the Saccharomyces village have large families with lots of cousins.

Some of them found life employment at Marutaka, in Kamisuwa (Nagano Prefecture). Marutaka has been crafting miso paste for a hundred years, in a Kura which is now classified as important cultural property. Mr. Kobayashi led us through the fabrication process and the plant. Nagano rice is steamed and inoculated with an aspergillus to produce Koji. Enzymes released by aspergillus slowly transform the starch into fermentable sugars, and proteins in amino acids. Such Koji is mixed with boiled then mashed soybeans (from Nagano!), as well as salt. Saccharomyces (yeast) is then introduced. The proportion of rice to soybean, the quantity of salt, the temperature at which the mixture is left fermenting, as well at the length of time of such fermentation and/or the subsequent maturing process determine the aromatic profile, the concentration of flavors including umami, and the color (from light ochre to dark brown). While their domestic market is declining, some of Marutaka’s beautiful miso pastes found their way to the United States or Paris for example, and the company has been developing a range of miso based products. Amongst differences to their peers in Nagano, the leading Prefecture for miso, Marutaka harnessed the heat of local onsen waters to keep the fermentation room above 20 degrees Celsius, enabling year long production. In addition they leave naturally produced alcohol into the miso.

Marutaka is a branch of the Miyasaka Jozo company, which has been brewing sake since 1662, using the Masumi brand. We paid a visit to the nearby cousin Kura afterwards, which itself employs Oryzae and Cerevisiae cousins for sake, in a not too dissimilar fermentation process.

Perhaps now you may grasp better why sake and miso are often associated in Japanese cuisine to marinate fish or meat, and why they enhance each other when paired in the mouth during a meal. Long life to cousin reunions.

Cousinades

Au pays des Fungi, les familles Oryzae (“Du Riz”) du hameau Aspergillus, et Cerevisiae (“De la Cervoise”) du hameau voisin Saccharomyces possèdent de très nombreux cousins et cousines.

Certains ont trouvé un emploi chez Marutaka, à Kamisuwa (département de Nagano). Marutaka produit du miso artisanalement depuis cent ans, dans un Kura classé patrimoine culturel. M. Kobayashi nous fait découvrir leur processus de fabrication et les locaux. Le riz (de Nagano) cuit à la vapeur est ensemencé d’aspergillus pour produire un Koji, riz dont l’amidon se transforme en sucres fermentables, et les protéines en acides aminés, sous l’effet des enzymes. Ce Koji est mélangé à une purée de graines de soja (de Nagano !) ébouillantées, et du sel. On introduit alors des levures Saccharomyces. La proportion entre riz et soja, la quantité de sel, la température et la durée de la fermentation, puis celle du vieillissement, déterminent le profil aromatique, la concentration de saveurs dont l’umami, et la couleur du produit fini (qui passe d’ocre clair à marron foncé). Dans un contexte de marché national en baisse, certains de leurs magnifiques miso ont trouvé la route des Etats-Unis ou de Paris, mais ils ont aussi su développer une gamme de produits dérivés.
Parmi ses différences, dans ce département de Nagano en tête des producteurs au Japon, Marutaka emploie la chaleur des eaux de onsen locales pour maintenir la température de la chambre de fermentation au-dessus de 20 degrés Celsius, permettant une activité toute l’année, et conserve l’alcool résiduel produit par les levures.

Marutaka est une branche cadette du groupe Miyasaka Jozo, qui produit du saké depuis 1662 sous la marque Masumi, sous la direction de M. Miyasaka. Nous sommes allés rendre visite au Kura cousin tout proche, qui emploie lui aussi des cousins Oryzae et Cerevisiae pour le saké, dans un processus de fermentation finalement assez similaire.

Vous appréhendez maintenant peut-être pourquoi saké et miso sont si souvent associés en cuisine pour mariner poisson ou viande, mais aussi se mettent en valeur l’un et l’autre en bouche au cours d’un repas. Vive les cousinades!

 

« Location, location and location »


The motto of real estate professionals applies to well to Shintsuru, located in Shimosuwa at the exact crossing of the Nakasendo and the Koshukaido, two of the ancient routes of feudal Japan, used by peddlers and daimyos migrating between Edo and their fief. The house stands against the ground of beautiful Akimiya, part of Suwa Taisha (Suwa grand shrine).

Founded in 1874, it continues to live from yokan, a traditional confectionary, pillar of the older and better known Toraya group. Their yokan is made of azuki and kanten, manually knead and mixed in a cauldron heating on an oak wood fire. The azuki red beans today comes from Tokachi in Hokkaido (where I am heading to next week) and the kanten (similar to agar-agar, a vegetal gelling agent) from its historical birthplace in nearby Chino. We visited the factory in February 2015 (picture). To be different, Shintsuru introduced a generous pinch of salt in the recipe, a very precious commodity in Suwa in ancient times. To be tried.

“L’emplacement, l’emplacement et l’emplacement”

La règle des professionnels de l’immobilier s’applique bien à la maison Shintsuru, située à Shimosuwa, au carrefour exact de la Nakasendo et de la Koshukaido, deux des routes historiques d’échange commercial et de migration des daimyos à travers le Japon féodal, entre Edo et leur fief. Elle est en outre adossée au très beau sanctuaire Akimiya de Suwa Taisha.
Fondée en 1874, elle continue de vivre du yokan, une confiserie traditionnelle, un des piliers de la maison Toraya aussi, plus connue et plus ancienne. Ce yokan est un assemblage d’azuki et de kanten, longuement mélangés et malaxés manuellement dans un chaudron chauffant sur un feu de bois de chêne. Le haricot rouge (azuki) vient aujourd’hui de Tokachi (Hokkaido) ou je me rends la semaine prochaine, et le kanten (semblable au agar-agar, un gélifiant d’origine végétale) de son berceau historique Chino, situé à quelques kilomètres. Nous en avions visité la fabrique en février 2015 (photo). Pour créer une différence avec leurs concurrents, Shintsuru a introduit dans la recette une pointe de sel, un ingrédient précieux dans un lieu comme Suwa dans les temps passés. A déguster sans trop de modération.

Kaa (Jungle Book)

Version 2

It looks like Naoki Amano, manager of the Nihonshu Stand Moto is trying to extract himself from the bottle of this aptly named Snake Eye…or alternatively that the bottle is grabbing him by the collar. This sake is remarkable on a number of counts: rightful member of the highest category of Specially designated sake (Junmai Daiginjo), it was brewed using wine yeast, and bottled without carbon filtering, pasteurisation or dilution (Muroka,Nama,Gen-shu), in a wine magnum bottle (1.5L) and not a traditional « isshobin » (1.8L). Last but not least, international wine lovers can quite easily read the label.
Definitely of a high standard, it surprises me a little in the mouth: while I was expecting body and outstanding acidity, I mostly keep the memory of bitterness just before the sake goes through the throat. It made me think at that time, that the name was appropriate (just my imagination of what snake venom may taste like!). As usual, I tried to know more, and found myself plunged into an important part of Japan’s history. This sake was brewed by Eiko Fuji Shuzou (« Glorious Mount Fuji »), in Yamagata. The rice used is local Dewanosato. The Kura was founded in 1778 (!!) and is owned and managed by Mr. Kato, 13th generation heir, a direct descendant of Daimyo Kiyomasa Kato (1562 – 1611). Kato (the daimyo) illustrated himself during the bloody campaigns leading the country unification (Sengoku period). He was one of the « 7 spears of Shizugatake », the generals who brought Hideyoshi Toyotomi to power a short while after that famous battle, was one of the leaders of the invasion of Korea under Toyotomi, fought for Ieyasu Tokugawa at the battle of Sekigahara (October 21st, 1600, exactly the same day I was tasting this sake for the first time, speak of a coincidence!), before dying in unexplained circumstances in 1611. He has left the image of a fierce and ruthless warrior, devout Nichiren Buddhism supporter … and savage toward Christians in Kumamoto (Kyushu), the fief he inherited. « Snake Eye », this red circle, was his emblem (Kamon), and can be seen on the door of the brewery, where a piece of Kato’s body armour is on display.
On the day of my tasting, I had asked the barmaid who, like some comments I have read on the internet, explained that snake eye was an evocation of the blue circles painted at the bottom of the white porcelain kikichoko. It was a reminder that, while close to a white wine, that beverage was asserting itself as a true nihonshu. Possibly as well…. But which story do you prefer (I phoned the Kura to check)?