There are a handful of Japanese cheese producers that I am a big fan of and one of them is Nagato from Nagano. It’s on the top of the mountains, the air is clean and crisp and there are cows. For this Minnesota girl, it was like visiting a friend’s home growing up, but with cheese, and a big selection to choose from. And, the area is filled with birch trees (shirakaba), another nice nod to home.
There is the farm, a retail shop, and a restaurant.
My favorite is the tezukuri gouda miso cheese. Cubes of gouda cheese mixed with Shinshu miso. We love this with wine or saké. There is also ice cream, yogurt, and milk. The restaurant serves pizza, cheese and sausage plates, curry, and cheesecake.
In Suwa, Nagano we came across this lovely Marutaka Miso shop. The shop celebrates its 100th anniversary for making miso since 1916. The area is famous for Shinshu miso, made from soybeans and rice. There is also a kome kōji miso, made with extra kōji (aspergillus oryzae) that is aged for a longer time resulting in a sweet and mild miso.
Marutaka also has many other pantry staples including soy sauce, vinegar, sake, and more. It’s a fun shop to visit and there are plenty of products to bring home for yourself and for omiyage for friends.
Marutaka green pepper miso
One of the miso we brought home is this miso mixed simply with green chili peppers. A spicy dip for crudite of daikon, cucumbers, and carrots. We don’t think of heat in the Japanese palate, so this is a fun way to add spice to your table.
Asari (Ruditapes philippinarum) Japanese littleneck clams
Asari, Japanese littleneck clams, are in the market now and may be some of the easiest shellfish to cook with at home. We picked these up at Tsukiji Market and put them in water to get rid of any sand and grit. It’s best to do this overnight if you can. We wash the clams in water and then put them in a bowl of water and cover with aluminum foil. When we put the clams in the bowl they were all closed shut. Check out how much they opened up overnight. Be sure to make time to rid the clams of sand or don’t bother making them. It can be very frustrating to bite into a sandy clam.
Perhaps the easiest recipe is to simply steam the clams in saké with a bit of salt. That of course is best served with some of the saké that it is steamed in. Our next favorite is to sauté some garlic in olive oil, add white wine and the clams and let them open up and then add some pasta for a quick vongole. Our three-year old loves this and requests it often.
Asari, daikon, and daikon greens miso soup
Finally, boiling the clams in water and adding miso makes for a quick and easy miso soup. This bowl here we had cooked some daikon in the water before adding the asari and then garnished with finely minced daikon greens.
Look for asari at the supermarket in the seafood section. It is usually sold packed on styrofoam trays and wrapped in plastic wrap. I usually pay only about 250 to 400 JPY for a pack that feeds three of us. Asari should be eaten as soon as possible. They will not keep long so only buy when you are ready to eat, usually later that day or for the next day.
While antenna shops typically represent a prefecture, this shop carries a mishmash of items from all over Japan. The shop is not that organized, so you have to know what you are looking for. There are several antenna shops in the Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan, like Hokkaido, Akita, and many more, so definitely worth spending some time here. There are a wide variety of items including miso, natto, sake, wagashi, sembei, pickles, and more. Perhaps the most interesting is the selection of miso in the refrigerator section. Customers can taste through a variety of miso before purchasing.
Mura Kara Machi Kara Kan むらからまちから館
Chiyoda-ku, Yurakucho 2-10-1, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan 千代田区有楽町２−１０−１東京交通会館
10:00 – 19:30 (10:00 – 19:00 on weekends and holidays)