Photography by Shogo Oizumi
On a stretch of fertile land, where several tributaries flow into Tokushima prefecture’s broad Yoshino River, sits Miura Fermented Foods. In the miso-making business since 1849, Miura has long been known for its nesashi miso, a variety produced in just a few parts of Tokushima. Made only with soybeans, nesashi miso has a strong, unique flavor that some find unusual but that adds richness to many dishes.
Fifth generation owner Seiji Miura describes nesashi miso as “similar in character to blue cheese. Just a tiny dab adds surprising depth to a dish’s flavor, and it has sparked interest among chocolatiers and chefs who specialize in French or Italian cuisine.”
The first step in making nesashi miso is to steam domestically grown soybeans in large wooden tubs known as koshiki. The steamed soybeans are then ground and shaped into oblong cakes called namako while still hot. When the cakes have cooled, they are sliced into 2-centimeter-thick rounds, which are laid out on straw mats.
At this stage, ordinary miso would be sprinkled with koji mold, which Miura nesashi miso however does not require. As Miura describes it, “We just let our miso ferment through the action of the koji present in the straw matting as well as in the storehouse.” The microbes thrive on the moisture of the sliced miso cakes, and after 40 to 60 days the cakes are coated with a hairy white mold.
Miso production using this natural method of mold formation takes place in the depths of winter, when other types of microbe are less active. But, says Miura, “the work is easily affected by changes in humidity and temperature. These days, the window for production is getting shorter and shorter, probably because of global warming, and that’s a cause for concern.” By the time they are covered in hairy mold, the namako cakes are hard and black. Water and salt are stirred in with the cakes, and this mixture is packed into cedar tubs and left to age for three years. The end result is nesashi miso just as it’s been produced for a century and a half.
“Our miso contains no additives,” says Miura. “We keep a vigilant eye on the fermentation process, constantly monitoring the humidity, temperature, and time, as well as the miso’s smell, color, and texture. Miso is a ‘living food’ that changes from day to day. We are grateful for its blessings, and we will continue to make the best product we can by listening closely to the ‘voice’ of the miso.”
Miura Fermented Foods Co., Ltd.
468 Ichiba-cho Ichiba
Machisuji, Awa, Tokushima
This article is an excerpt from Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2020 Spring/Summer.