Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Okinawa Cheese Scene

I have just returned from two weeks in Japan, which is why I have not been posting. I spent one night in Tokyo and the rest of the time visiting family on the island of Okinawa. I was excited to explore the cheese scene in Okinawa. Whenever I travel, I like to explore local markets big and small. I visited Heiwa Dori in Naha and visited a few different Jusco store locations and a few other smaller supermarkets. I am embarrassed to say that I only just discovered Cheers!! http://www.okinawahai.com/my_weblog/2010/01/cheers-cheese-shop.html which looks like an actual cheese shop in Okinawa. I must admit I did not plan much for this trip as it was really focused on seeing family.

Visiting supermarkets, the cheese scene reminded me of what the American cheese landscape must have looked like in the 70’s. There might be a Camembert or smoked Gouda but for the most part it was processed cheese. I did find some Boursin and Mimolette in a gourmet food store. I did not see a cheese plane to go with the Mimolette as this cheese must be shaved thin or the texture is not delicious. Some of the cheese offerings were individually wrapped processed cheese squares with flavor additions like salami, black pepper, and jalapeno. They did offer Philadelphia cream cheese which is nice to see as I am a Philly girl at heart. The best cream cheese is made by Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, MI but that is hard to find outside of Michigan. All the cheeses seemed to be made from cow’s milk. I knew the island had goats so I kept searching for some goat cheese. While visiting a Jusco near Naha, I found some.

Pinza Blanc is an Okinawan goat cheese made in Nakagusuku. I used Google to translate their website http://www.hagoromo-bokujo.co.jp/ with some interesting results. The packaging seemed full of information but alas, it was all in Japanese and I have been unable to translate it into English. Goats seemed to be raised mostly for meat but this farm also makes and sells goat milk, goat yogurt, and soap in addition to the cheese.

Pinza Blanc goat cheese is hand made in a French style with a bloomy rind. The texture was slightly chalky and dry. It was more aged then brie and tasted similar to a crottin but not as yeasty. The rind was mild and did not have any bitter flavors which I often associate with brie that has aged past its prime. The Pinza Blanc did not have a strong goat flavor and was milder then Humboldt Fog. We demolished the round during a picnic and everyone, Japanese and American, really seemed to enjoy the cheese.

I was also searching for cheese in restaurants. Our first dinner out was at Kenny’s which offers Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and American cuisine. They had quite a number of cheese offerings on the menu and we tried a few of them. We enjoyed a fried cheese and potato ball which was served with fried Camembert and both were tasty. We also ordered an artful plate of cheese, ham, and avocado and a cheese plate.

The cheese plate was very dainty and consisted of a very processed cheese square which may have been cheddar, mozzarella, a standard smoked Gouda, a Camembert, and a tasty blue cheese. The plate was adorned with olives and tomatoes which were filled with cheese. Our hotel, EM Coastal Vista also offered a cheese plate but I never got to explore their rendition.

We also had a great dining experience at Cheese Cheese Cheese http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/f476301/, Okinawa’s first cheese restaurant. They did not have an English menu so my sister-in-law was nice enough to order for the group.

I am not sure what exactly we ate but we enjoyed Fondue, some roasted cheese and rice balls (onigiri which I love!), a salad with smoked Gouda and other cheeses, a cheese and potato gratin, as well as a chicken and cheese stew which was presented table side. There was a large hot stone in the pot with chicken and veggies then a rich creamy cheese sauce was poured into the bowl. We also enjoyed another dish with a table presentation but there was no cheese in this one. It was black pig that was steamed at the table and very delicious. When it comes to restaurants we visited and ambiance, this one took the cheesecake!

Japan may have the best cheese crackers I have tasted which are not 100% cheese. Cheeza crackers, http://www.glico.co.jp/cheeza/ come in 52% Cheddar cheese, 51% Camembert, and 51% Gorgonzola. I did not taste the Gorgonzola but did try the other two varieties. They are packed with real cheese flavor and have a great texture, way better than any Cheez-It. I brought home 6 packs and wish I had brought home more. I really want to try the Gorgonzola variety but did not see them until I was boarding the plane at Narita airport and I was all out of Yen.

Cheese has a place in the belly of Japan and the market seems to be growing. I watched many Japanese people enjoying tall glasses of milk during the breakfast buffet at our hotel. I have never been one to sit down to a tall glass or even a small glass of milk unless it is chocolate or accompanied by cookies. I find it strange to see an adult drinking milk with a meal but I was happily surprised by the number of people enjoying milk with their breakfast. Plus, our hotel offered a local organic milk.

One of my biggest regrets was not trying the Orange Cheese Moochi ice cream ball while I was in Tokyo. I had hoped to find one elsewhere but have had no luck. It will have to wait until my next trip along with the Gorgonzola Cheeza crackers and my visit to Cheers!!. Can't wait to tell you about everything else I ate during my trip...

1 comment:

  1. When are you coming to Okinawa next? John (the Cheese Guy in Okinawa)