So if you remember a few months back I wrote a post explaining the basics of miso.
In that post there was a little blurp about mame miso:
Mame Miso 豆みそ :soybean miso or red miso made from fermented soybeans. The most sought after mame miso is the hatcho miso. It is made with a different kind of koji yeast called hatcho koji. The end result is a reddish brown chuncky miso low in carbohydrates and rich in flavor. It is especially used for hearty soups and sauces.
I knew moving to Aichi Prefecture that this area is known for miso. People here love putting it on tofu, in soup, on katsu and more. But that is another post. I didn’t really stop before to think what kind of miso that might be. I just thought miso. Then I thought if miso is so popular around here they must have a factory or a museum or something.
I didn’t realize this area wasn’t just famous for miso. Or even mame miso. This area, Okazaki City to be exact (15 minute train ride from where we live), is known for the most coveted miso in all of Japan. Hatcho miso. And the factory offers tours!!! So of course I went as soon as I could.
Hatcho miso is the stuff of legend. Starting with the name.
Hatcho means 8th Street or 8th Street Miso and that is exactly where the Hatcho Miso Company has been making miso in Okazaki City since the 1300. That roughly puts the beginning of Hatcho Miso during Japan’s Warring States Period. Probably the most tumultuous time in Japan’s history. As different factions vied to unify and hold complete power of Japan.
It probably didn’t hurt Hatcho Miso Co.’s reputation either that Okazaki is also famous for being the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The guy that did eventually unify Japan in 1600. What followed was 200 years of peace. At which time anything related to Tokugawa likely became prestigious and sought after.
It is even said that the Hatco Miso Co.’s was the preferred miso of Japan’s favorite emperor, Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). Even today the Hatcho Miso Co. has the distinct honor of supplying miso to Japan’s Emperial Household. The Hatcho Miso Co. has even had two television dramas based on it.
So what is so freaking special about hatcho miso? Other than the fact it comes from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s hometown and it is really super old. Consider miso in the same way you would consider wine or cheese. Everything matters when making miso. What ingredients are used, how they are prepared and most importantly how the product is stored while it ages.
Unlike other kinds of miso or even other mame miso. Hatcho miso starts out with only high quality Hokkaido soybeans. The beans are carefully washed and then allowed to soak in water for an hour before being steamed for two hours in a 2000 pound cooker. After steaming, the beans are left in the cooker overnight until they turn turn brown and take on a distinct smoky flavor unique to Hatcho Miso.
The next day the beans are mashed and shaped into little crosses with a special machine in order to allow more surface area for the hatcho koji to grow on. Then the little crosses are dusted with barley flour and hatcho koji and allowed to incubate for 72 hours.
At the end of the 72 hour period the bean mash is covered in a light yellow mold and is very fragrant. Salt is added and everything is mixed together before it is transferred to the 7 foot tall cedar vats for fermentation.
Of course on the tour we were not allowed to see any of this process for ourselves. I am not sure if it was because none of the above was going on that day or if it is because it is very hush hush. On the way in I noticed a another factory called Maru Hatcho Miso on the same street and a two stations down was yet another miso factory. So I am guess maybe it was hush hush for competition reasons. But really I don’t know.
We were allowed to see the large vats. The tour guide guided my group and I through vats and vats of miso at different stages of fermentation.
After being covered with a thick cotton cloth to keep the miso safe a heavy wooden pressing lid is placed on top of the miso. Then 6000 pounds of river stones are piled on top in the shape of a pyramid that never topples, supposedly not even during an earthquake. For the next two years the miso ferments in the hot, humid Japanese summers and mild winters. During that time the true flavor of hatcho miso develops. There are other companies in the area that also make hatcho miso. But only the Hatcho Miso Co. has the special hatcho miso koji strain that has naturally developed in their cedar vats over the centuries that gives the Hatcho Miso Co.’s miso its distinct rich flavor.
After the tour we were able to sample the miso. Of course this is my favorite part! I love Hatcho Miso and use to buy it once and awhile in Seattle but it was very expensive. The soup they offered was simple and excellent. My mouth watering I headed over to the restaurant for a hatcho miso feast!
It was really hard to decide what to eat. There was miso ramen, miso gyoza, miso katsu and what I eventually settled on, the miso dengaku lunch set. I decided on the dengaku lunch set because it looked the most interesting and offered the most variety in terms of different ways miso can be used.
Dengaku is the egg, tofu and konyaku covered is hatcho miso sauce. Served with hatcho miso soup, rice with miso pickled jinenjo and a small side of doteni.
No miso lunch would be complete without a hatcho miso lager. It was actually really good. I don’t like beer but this was really good. As someone who is not very fond of beer, I could see myself actually wanting to drink this once and awhile. Too bad it is pretty much only sold at the Hatcho Miso Co. Museum.
For dessert. Yes there is always dessert. Ice cream!! But not just any ice cream. Miso flavored ice cream. Sounds gross right? Actually it was really good. At first it tasted like vanilla ice cream but with a mild after taste of miso. It was very sweet not salty at all. But by this point I was sorta misod out. So the miso flavor had lost a bit of its appeal.
Which is not to say I have sworn off miso for ever. Quit the contrary. Dealing with the fact that I was only granted one stomach to hold such tasty food I picked up a package hatcho miso to eat another day.
Oh man was it good!
If you wish to know more about hatcho miso, visit the museum yourself and eat some tasty food go here: