Pastry lovers will make that trip to Paris, pizza connoisseurs will head to Naples.. dim sum fans will devour dumplings in Hong Kong. Every dish has its mecca; that place to taste the original; to enjoy the real thing.
For miso maniacs like me, I made my foodie pilgrimage to….Okazaki in Aichi.
3 hours from Tokyo on the bullet train (Shinkansen) later… I made it!
Hatcho miso is the darkest form of miso, almost black in colour.. it tastes like an aromatic soy sauce but is hard and tough like brand-new play-doh. Maruya Hatcho Miso is the oldest existing Hatcho miso maker 八丁味噌 in Japan and has been operating since 1337. Hatcho miso draws its name from its proximity to Okazaki Castle -“Hatcho” refers to the fact that the miso factory was 8 blocks from the castle (“ha” meaning 8, and “cho” meaning one city block).
A real delicacy in Japan, it is best known for being the Miso-of-Choice of the Emperors in Japan. The most famous shogun in Japanese history, Ieyasu Tokugawa lived in Okazaki castle and this was the miso he drank every day.
This is Ancient Japanese craft at its best… making miso for the last 700 years using traditional methods and preserving its traditions.
Outside, you get a little preview of what we were about to see inside; tens of barrels waiting to be filled with the next batch of soy beans for fermentation. Here they are drying in the sun… I am there for scale; they measure 2 metres wide by 2 metres deep and made from over 200 Japanese cedar wood trees each, and requiring almost a full year to make each one! There are only a few masters left who can construct these barrels in the traditional way (that last around 100 years). The clever bit is that these barrels are made with no nails at all, just bamboo strapping them together tightly?! ( no, I don’t understand it either! )
Here we are entering the magnificent miso factory!!
The factory was cool and dark. Unlike more modern methods of making miso, there were no temperature-controls in here; only soy beans quietly fermenting in their cedar barrels in the natural climate over ’3 winters’, before it is dug out to be packed for sale.
And here’s an interesting dinner party fact for you! Hatcho miso has been taken on all Japanese Expeditions to the South pole because of its high nutritional content, lowest salt compared to other misos, and for being stable in harsh surroundings.
This is miso for the adventurous; the explorers.
You might be thinking, what on earth is that mound of stones on top? They look like giant molehills?
Well, these are a serious art in themselves.
Carefully chosen rocks provide the finishing touch to the slow fermentation of the soy beans. Each weighing at least 60kgs each, the rocks push up to 4 tonnes in weight onto the 6 tonnes of miso that are inside each barrel. Its pyramidal formation ensures that the barrels do not get damaged during an earthquake too – they really do think of everything (!)
Here I am pathetically trying to pick up one of the smaller stones.
This is how the professionals do it…
The whole tour of the factory was conducted in Japanese so thank goodness my Japanese friend was with me!
There were some helpful replica models to show the conditions in which they worked:
Beside the factory there was a store selling everything you can possibly think of that could be hatcho miso-flavoured.
And I thought I had an imagination!
Miso Paste in traditional mini barrels, as souvenirs – (this was a tricky one to explain at Customs..)
Hatcho miso flavoured beer!
Hatcho Miso sauce on jelly lollies..
Hatcho miso icecream!
Some cooking ideas for the hatcho miso sauce..
Hatcho miso flavoured bread sticks!
Hatcho miso flavoured crackers..
Hatcho miso flavoured QUAIL EGGS! Yes!
For many years whilst researching miso, I had read so much about this place in Okazaki; trying to make sense of the numerous Japanese websites on this particular factory. I studied pictures of the miso barrels and even used them in my first ever Miso Tasty presentation to illustrate the history of miso…
And here I am! Next to those very same barrels I had seen only in pictures!
For more information,head to the website of Maruya Hatcho Miso where there are some helpful parts translated into English. Maruya Hatcho miso is perhaps one of the most renowned brands of miso in Japan. During the Second World War, because of rationing, the Imperial Army sent orders to reduce the quantity of soy used (and hence the quality) in the manufacture of miso, Maruya Hatcho miso refused, and eventually won out in order to continue producing the best quality miso. That’s the spirit!
Googlemap Location is here.