Macrobiotic is an art and science, re-discovered by the Japanese philosopher Gorge Oshawa, who develops an understanding as regards interaction between man, his food, his life style and the environment in which he lives.
Macrobiotics focuses on the yin-yang dynamic (balance between opposite and complementary forces and energy) in life and in everyday eating with the intention of using this principle to create a harmony and a balance in one’s own eating and psychological and physical well being.
La Finestra sul Cielo has, for thirty years, believed in the well being of the person and the environment, renewing itself within the spirit of a group which chooses the best of biological foods and a quality guarantee.
Traditional Japanese foods are the result of experimentation by innumerable generations of people used to living in close contact with nature and its rhythms, capable of obtaining very simple foods of very high nutritional value from very simple ingredients. Naturally, even in a super technological national like Japan, foods like these can almost not be found. There should be a gratitude to the few traditional producers who have chosen to overcome the financial difficulties of an ever more competitive market to ensure that consumers today have incomparable foods and condiments from the point of view of nutrition and flavour.
Typical products from Macrobiotic Quality Coupon are almost all prepared with Biological Agricultural ingredients, and are all obtained in accordance with methods handed down from generation to generation within traditional families, who have preserved and developed the secrets of their work.
The choice of products worked by La Finestra sul Cielo enables us to taste the absolute best of traditional Japanese production. Our Macrobiotic Golden Quality coupon is a guarantee and assistance in research for traditional products.
We know better some products
Seasonings: Acidulated rice
Kyushu is the island that forms the southern part of the Japanese archipelago. Endowed with a humid hot climate it is the production area par excellence of the best acidulated rice.
Rice acidulate is a condiment produced through the fermentation of rice in terracotta goat-skins for a year, so as make it first become alcohol and then vinegar.
Rice acidulate has much more delicate flavour than wine and more delicate than honey.
Use it to season salads and steamed greens, to flavour greens and fish in gelatin and for all uses for conventional vinegar.
History and production of Kyushu biological acidulated rice
Kyushu is an island to the south of Japan, the closest to China; Chinese culture has been transmitted to the country via this region, especially through the work of Buddhist monks.
From the IV century AC the monks then also brought, besides their teaching, recipes for simple foods and essential for their strictly vegetarian diet: among these was rice acidulate.
At the end of the VIIl century the production of acidulated rice was properly established in Kyushu, where it continues up to today. The nearness of China, its mild climate suitable for this work and the availability of rice and water of a higher quality proved to be in favour. Up to today the Maruboshi company, which produces Kyushu acidulated rice, uses only ingredients of the same quality: Sashanishiki biological rice, considered the best in Japan, and pure water from its private well more than 100 m deep. Water purity is extremely important for the flavour of the acidulated rice.
Maruboshi moreover uses a specific production procedure characteristic of Kyushu, which is different from that of other regions in Japan in the fact that it carries out fermentation in large terracotta containers partially buried underground. Experiments lasting generations have demonstrated that this method produces an acidulate of much better flavour.
Production begins with the preparation of Koji: steam cooked rice is inseminated with aspergillus oryzae spores, which in 48 hours of incubation will re-cover the grains with a fine mycelial candida. The Koji is then ready to be transferred, with the adding of water, to large cedar wood vats. The first fermentation which occurs in these trunks, transforms the starch from the rice firstly into simpler sugars and then into alcohol. The result is a type of Sake (wine from rice) rather strong, on 18-20 levels. This Sake is used to prepare rice acidulate, just like wine is used to produce vinegar in our country.
The Sake is indeed diluted with water, and a small quantity of already prepared acidulate is added, as "mother". The mixture is then transferred to the buried terracotta vats, and left to ferment for six weeks. The fact that the containers are buried assures the most uniform temperature throughout the year.
After this, the liquid is removed from the vats and filtered, and then left to mature again for a year. Thus a very strong acidulate is obtained, which is diluted to reach an acidity equal to 4.3%. Then it is filtered and is left to sediment to eliminate all turbidity, until it can be finally bottled.
12 to 15 months, in accordance with the season in which work begins, are therefore necessary to obtain this condiment, which is considered to be absolutely essential in the Japanese kitchen. Its flavour, being less acidic, softer and full of that of wine vinegar, harmonizes marvelously with all cereal, vegetable and seaweed dishes, stimulating the flavour without covering it.
Miso is the undisputed of Japanese condiments, for flavour and nutritional quality, also deserving to occupy pride of place in our daily diet. Miso is the result of a two year expert maturing of soya, salt and cereals (usually rice or barley), carried out in large cedar wood vats. This process creates a dark and very tasty dough which is mainly used instead of broth cubes in soup and minestrone soups, and also to create sauces and various condiments. Besides being a delicious condiment, Miso has a truly unique nutritional value, because it supplies the human system with many precious substances such as lactobacilli, enzymes, proteins and minerals.
To use Miso in the easiest way, prepare a vegetable soup, being sensible not to salt it during cooking. On last cooking, sample a little of the broth and put it into a soup bowl, add the Miso, in the quantity of a soup spoon per portion, undo it well and add it to the rest of the soup. Careful: to preserve all of the Miso qualities, do not boil it.
La Finestra sul Cielo offers you:
Onozaki Barley Miso, produced with soya, barley and salt, with a lighter flavour and clearer colour, suitable for all seasons.
Johsen rice Miso, produced with soya, whole rice and salt, with a pure and intense flavour.
Hatcho Miso, the legendary Miso of the Emperor of Japan, produced only with soya, barley and salt, with a deep and unmistakable flavour.
In as much as there is an intention to avoid or limit the presence of genetically modified organisms in the proper dish, we emphasize the importance of using biological Miso just as in the La Finestra sul
Cielo varieties Miso: the most extraordinary Japanese condiment
Miso is a condiment with great nutritional value, obtained from long fermented soya and cereals. It appears as a dark coloured dough, and is mainly used as a cube for broth and in the preparation of sauces.
The origins of Miso
The most ancient forefathers of Miso were condiments prepared in China, already in 800 - 1000 years AD, from animal food (fish, molluscs and poultry) made to ferment in salt. Chiang, as this product was known, was used to enrich a diet formed mainly of cereal and vegetables with protein.
Following this the Buddhist monks discovered the possibility of fermenting soya beans instead of animal food while looking for foods which could effectively be integrated in a strictly vegetarian diet: this new condiment became widely distributed, because it was at the same time more economical, richer and more balanced than the previous.
The Buddhist monks even brought Chiang to Japan, in around 600 AD, where there was already a local tradition of fermented food. The Japanese people seized the new technique, adapting it to local tastes and requirements, and gradually Chiang became Miso, and gradually Chiang was transformed into Miso, a product which no longer used only soya in fermentation but rather various cereals.
Miso spread in a really extraordinary way during the Kamamura period, 1200 AD, when under the influence of Zen Buddhism, art, culture and social life were typified by a style of sober elegance and exquisite harmony. Food and the kitchen fully participated in the expression of this spirit: from then a formal distinction was started between main food (cereals) and secondary (greens, vegetables and seaweeds), and Miso soup became an essential ingredient for every meal. The popular saying "miso sae areba" (everything is fine until there is Miso) was then given birth to, and handed down to today.
Only a few producers continue to prepare Miso according to tradition, refusing new industrial systems which enable it to be more easily produced but at the cost of its precious nutritional properties.
Miso’s nutritional qualities:
Miso prepared naturally and traditionally is an extraordinary food - condiment, rich in vital substances.
It is rich in protein form 14 to 17%, containing it in variable quantities, according to varieties. But what is more important is that this protein, mainly originating from the soya used for its preparation, is demolished by the enzymes which develop during fermentation up to the single components: amino acids. This "pre-digestion" makes the proteins extremely assimilable, making Miso an important integrator in other sources of protein, such as cereals. When vegetal proteins are used, it is essential that these come from a combination of more foods, and the best combination is between cereals and vegetables: in this way good value nutritional proteins are obtained. Miso, by offering a very vast range of free amino acids mainly from soya, completes the cereal proteins (and in particular those from rice), making them much more useable. If a cereals meal is consumed with Miso accompanying it (in the form of a soup or another), the quantity of proteins which our system is able to use also grows by 30 - 40 %, and this explains how the Asian people have been able to live for long periods, in case of necessity, essentially from the combination of rice proteins, that is to say those from Miso and soya sauce.
Miso is therefore one of those foods which is absolutely essential to learn to use when you want to follow a balanced diet. It is easy to do it, because its delicious flavour is versatile and quickly becomes a habit which is hard to give up, both in the form of a classic Miso soup (which should be present on our table every day) and sauces, condiments, etc.
Careful: because Miso has this property it must not be pasteurized, because pasteurization inactivates the lactobacilli and enzymes.
Moreover Miso must be produced professionally: the delicate process of fermentation must be carried out by whoever has been mastering this art for a long time, and has got to know all of the secrets to develop Miso and all of its properties. And this is the case of Johsen, Onozaki, and Hatcho Miso Co, producers of the traditional Miso that we are presenting to you.
Johsen whole biological rice Miso
The Sasaki family, which produces Johsen Miso, started producing Miso in 1853; in 1919 this joined other local producers and the firm took the business name Johsen. A member of the Sasaki family always acted as Chairman: the present Chairman, belonging to the eighth generation, is living proof of the company’s dedication in creating quality products without compromise.
The region of production is Sendai, an area famous for the production of Miso, located on the Pacific Ocean, in the north-oriental part of Japan. The mild climate (max summer temperature 35°, min, winter temperature -5°) is very suitable for the fermentation of the best Miso and Shoyu.
The Miso produced in Sendai has been renowned since the times of Datè Masamunè, a powerful feudal man who, four hundred years ago, invested in this region. To feed his army he encouraged the local production of Miso, and the resulting product showed itself to be of such high exceptional quality that it became famous throughout Japan.
The Miso from Sendai has been for a long time produced with husked rice and soya; however, with the recommendation of Michio Kushi, a famous teacher of Macrobiotics, Johsen’s Head of Fermentation succeeded in creating the first whole rice Miso at around the beginning of the seventies. For this the rice is only lightly grated on the surface – with a minimum loss of husk – to enable the ferments to reach up to the starch which feeds them. In addition Johsen uses “whole” soya beans for its production: many producers used beans that have already been split and peeled, but when the protective layer of the peel is removed the other mould have an easier entrance into the fermentation process, making the quality of the Miso worse.
To prepare Johsen Miso, biological soya beans are accurately chosen, washed and soaked overnight. They are then pressure cooked, left to cool and mixed in Koji, the rice on which the ferment has been inoculated, which will prime the maturing of the Miso.
The Koji, in its turn, is prepared with steamed biological whole rice. The ferment spores are inoculated on this, which develop for 48 hours in a controlled environment, forming a delicate white glaze on the grains. The Koji fermentation chamber is a large room entirely of wood where, in the hot and humid half light, the spores find the environment and the nutrient ideal for their growth, and in which the Head of fermentation enters from time to time to control the mycelium’s state of development.
When the Koji is ready, it is transferred together with the soya into large cedar wood vats. Sea salt is added, and a lid is placed on the mixture onto which stones are piled up, which exert a moderate pressure for the entire fermentation period. The weight of the stones is not very high, but sufficient to cause outcrop of a certain quantity of liquid on the surface which acts as a sealant, protecting the mixture from undesirable microorganisms.
The Johsen Miso is left to ferment for at least eighteen months, sometimes twenty-four: the natural exchange of air at room temperature creates a cyclic rhythm through the seasons which produces a complete and harmonious fermentation.
During the first month of its maturing, the Johsen Miso is transferred two or three times from one vat to another to enable the mixture’s perfect oxygenation; after this it is left to rest until it is ready.
The Johsen Miso distributed by La Finestra sul Cielo is not pasteurized and is preserved in glass jars. The Johsen whole rice biological Miso has a characteristic reddish brown colour, and a fresh and slightly alcoholic aroma. The consistence is not homogenous, and some soya beans are still visible: this is the appearance of a well matured Miso, as it appears when removed from the fermentation barrels.
Biological Orzo Onozaki Miso
The Onozak family has also inherited a long tradition of Miso production but, different to Johsen, the Onozaki firm is a very small family affair: the family members participate in first person in the single production phases, which are managed as absolute craftsmen. The Miso is produced in the family home located in the city of Yaita, 150 km to the north of Tokyo. Built entirely of wood and paper, immersed in the shade of the cedar wood that surrounds it, the Onozaki home is three hundred years old, and with its same presence it expressed the force of a vibrant tradition.
Onozaki uses only the best ingredients for the preparation of its Miso: biologically cultivated soya and barley, and water from its private well.
The work begins with the washing of the beans, carried out by re-mixing them with wooden pitch forks, fifteen kilograms at the time. The impurities are removed with repeated washings, and the beans are soaked overnight. In the morning, after they have been boiled for twenty minutes, the water is then drained and then there is steam cooking for four hours.
The koji is prepared aside: the barley is cooked, left to cool and inseminated with the ferment spore. It will mature for 48 hours, often re-mixed to favour the regular development of the delicate mycelium. Then the barley koji is mixed with the cooked beans, at a ratio of 11 parts of koji for 10 of soya, and sea salt is added to the mixture.
The Onozaki Miso matures for eighteen months in large cedar wood vats at room temperature. During this period, it is transferred from one barrel to another, every three months, in accordance with the change of seasons, to assure perfect oxygenation and fermentation. The slow maturing is conducted in the old wood warehouse annexed to the house, where the large Miso vats flank the smallest barrels dedicated to the fermentation of the special pressed green Onozaki. The daikon, carrot and bardana, immersed in the rice husk toasted with pieces of apple, spices and salt, emanate a subtle perfume into the atmosphere and communicate the sensation of a vital old and learned process.
When perfectly matured, the Miso is finally extracted from the vats and packaged by hand in bins, without being pasteurized and preserved in glass jars.
The La Finestra sul Cielo Onozaki Miso is presented with the typical aroma of the fresh product, not pasteurized, and a regular consistency, in which there is a presence of soya beans and perfectly matured barley grains.
Onozaki Miso has a pleasant clear colour, owing to the high percentage of barley useable for its preparation and the steaming of the beans: pressure cooking makes them dark. The flavour is also particularly sweet, delicate, making the Onozaki Miso pleasant for all palates in all seasons.
Hatcho Miso: the Miso of the Emperor
The Miso known as Hatcho Miso is the most famous and esteemed variety, and the protagonist of a legendary history which could have only happened in Japan.
Hatcho, indeed, belongs to the most ancient variety of Miso, produced only with Soya and salt, without adding cereal. But not all of the Miso produced with soya and salt can be called Hatcho: on the contrary, that pertains only to that produced in a specific street (the eighth, that is to say, Hatcho) of the city of Okazaki, in the Aichi police area.
And in fact this extraordinary Miso has been prepared in the pavilions that flank this street, for more than six centuries. In the wooden building of Hatcho Miso Co the fermentation spores have colonized all of the fermentation environments, and have developed in stocks which do not live any where else, so as to deserve the specific name of aspergyllus hatcho. It is these special ferments, together with the particular production process implemented, that determine the inimitable taste of Hatcho Miso.
Since the fourteenth century Hatcho Miso has been the most popular Miso in Japan and patronized for the imperial palace: the best of the production reached the Emperor’s table with a barrel of Miso sampled from the central part of the largest vat, around thirty centimetres under the surface.
Hatcho Miso is richer in protein (around 17% more) and poorer in salt (around 20% less) compared with other types of Miso. Its production is characterized by two particularities: 1) after steaming, the soya is left to rest in the boiler overnight, so that it acquires a darker colour and a subtle smoked aroma and 2) in the mixing of the soya, ferment and salt placed in the vats, a pile of masses weighing three tons is superimposed, so that fermenting develops, over a span of two years, under this continuous and intense pressure. The result is a Miso from a dark colour and very intense flavour.
Other varieties of Miso
Shiro Miso (sweet white Miso) is a sweet and salted condiment which can be added to vegetable dishes or used to prepare sauces. For example, you can thoroughly combine two soup spoons of Shiro Miso, a soup spoon of Tahin (sesame cream) and lemon juice, adding the latter gradually, so as to obtain a liquid cream. You now have an excellent sauce on cooked or raw vegetables and, if you make it a little more consistent, also excellent on crackers or toasted bread.
Tekka is a very popular condiment in Japan: its name means “root of iron”. The intense and decisive flavour makes it a very specific condiment, which can be strewn on cereals and vegetables.
Seasonings: Soya Sauces
La Finestra sul Cielo offers you the two more traditional and crafted varieties of Soya Sauce: Shoyu Johsen, prepared with soya, grain and sea salt, and Tamari Yaemon, prepared only with soya and salt. The first has a more delicate and less salty flavour and the second is thicker and richer with a full flavour.
Both are achieved by producers with more than a century of experience in preparing superior quality soya sauces.
Soya sauce is extremely versatile: it can be used in cooking in the preparation of greens, vegetables, cereals, seaweed, etc, directly in salads, pasta or fish. You simply need to try boiling the fish and add a little Tamari and few drops of lemon to the dish: the result will surprise you. Or you can try to season your salad with oil, Shoyu and apple or rice vinegar, or your pasta with oil, Tamari and parsley. In addition, in as much as it is intended to avoid or limit the presence of genetically modified organisms in your meal, we emphasize the importance of using biologically based Shoyu and Tamari.
Shoyu Johsen: a shoyu with full and balanced taste, adapted for basic uses, and especially to flavour and season green and vegetable dishes during the last minutes of cooking.
Tamari Yaemon: a condiment with a rich flavour, specifically adapted to be used directly in rice, dough, fish, salad dishes, etc.
Shoyu and Tamari: The art of traditional soya sauce
Soya sauce in Japan was created as an offshoot from the Miso preparation, to afterwards become a condiment in itself, very popular and characteristic of all oriental cuisine.
Although condiments and fermented foods have been known for a long time in Japan, it was only in the twelfth century that Miso (then obtained only from soya and salt) became a widely consumed food. It was really in those years that the Buddhist Kakushin monks, who taught the way of thinking for the preparation of Miso, began to collect the liquid that formed at the bottom of fermentation vats and use it as a condiment: the first Tamari was created. Two centuries later the procedure was modified by putting the mixture in fermentation under pressure, so as to obtain the liquid in larger quantities, and so Tamari became a very popular condiment.
Even later, at around 1640, experiments were begun on soya sauce produced by adding toasted grains to the soya and salt. Towards 1700 the product had obtained characteristics that from then on were handed down, even to today: almost equal quantities of grain and soya were placed to ferment with water and salt to obtain the condiment which took the name of Shoyu, and which was destined to be even more popular than Tamari.
Both of these condiments have become the basic ingredients of Japanese and oriental food, both for their stimulating flavour and for their nutritional qualities: indeed they are rich in protein and have contributed to being the main base of the vegetarian eating of oriental people for centuries.
The working of Shoyu and Tamari, with the method having been perfected, stayed the same right up to this century until the occurrence of technological modernization immediately before the Second World War and then with the turning of finance and customs after the war, and then it progressively became an industrial procedure.
Fortunately a small section of Japanese producers have resisted the technology that has transformed Japan this century, continuing to achieve traditional production despite the difficulties owing to the competition of the new industrial methods. It is owing to them that we can have quality soya sauce such as Shoyu Johsen and Tamari Yaemon or Mansan today.
Biological Mansan or Yaemon TAMARI
The Mansan family founded their firm in 1875 in the zone of Nagoya, renowned precisely for the production – typical of this region - of Tamari and soya Miso.
The Mansan family has developed a specific method for the preparation of Koji, a ferment used to prime the transformations which occur in the production process, and has always remained faithful to the traditional working of the product, whose practice has been handed down up to today along generations that have managed the family firm. In particular the preparation of Koji represents the true secret of the special Tamari. The Yaemon family manages production in the same way and we have one product or another in accordance with preparation period and quantities.
The first steps in the production process are represented in the washing and the soaking of the biological soya beans. They are then steam cooked. With the beans cooked and cooked they then form balls on to which the koji spores are scattered: the quality of the koji spores, selected over the centuries is particularly important for the taste that the Tamari will acquire.
The soya balls and spores ferment for 48 hours in suitable containers, which are therefore removed and deposited on bamboo mats in the family’s large wood warehouse, and left to dry for two weeks. This procedure, which makes the salt and the koji penetrate the beans in depth, will enable the perfect fermentation of the soya, and the "secret" of the full taste of the Tamari.
There then follows a slow maturing with water and salt in cedar wood barrels for 18 months; during this period the liquid which forms is drained and turned over on to the mass in fermentation. This operation is repeated twice a day at the beginning, then once a day, and so on and so on: the continual circulation of the Tamari via the mass improves oxygenation and makes its flavour very intense.
When the Tamari is ready, it is drained and collected: it is the Tamari known as Kibiki, thick and with a very strong flavour. The Kibiki is already edible, but too salty for regular use. The fermented mass is then placed in cotton bags and pressed to obtain another liquid which is Tamari Assaku, lighter than the previous. Finally, a part of Kibiki is mixed with three parts of Assaku, and all is briefly pasteurized to reduce enzymatic activity.
Biological Johsen SHOYU
The firm Johsen has been selected among over 2000 soya sauce producing companies and is in first place for the best quality. With more than 250 years of experience in the preparation of superior quality shoyu are at the root of a truly exceptional condiment.
To prepare Shoyu the soya beans are washed, drained and soaked for around 10 hours. Then they are pressure cooked.
One part of the wheat has been toasted, which is added to the cooked beans. The mixture is left to cool at 45° and the Koji spores are added and all of this is placed in fermentation boxes.
The temperature is kept at 30-35° degrees and the mixture is turned regularly in the fermentation boxes, used for so many years to be now impregnated with the Koji spores.
The Koji is ready in 3-4 days, and can be put to ferment in the cedar barrels together with water and salt. The mixture ("moromi" in Japanese) ferments for 18 months at a natural temperature; every so often it is mixed to assure uniform maturation.
Finally the fermented mass is placed in cotton bags which are piled one on the other: the weight of the pile of bags begins to squeeze part of the liquid. The day after a further pressure is applied to extract the rest of the liquid.
The Shoyu is finally pasteurized for an hour at 82° and, given that no preservatives are added, is immediately packaged. The Shoyu has been pasteurized for centuries to avoid deterioration and stop fermentation.
Umeboshi is a traditional product in the kitchen and in Japanese culture, obtained by placing a special variety of plum to mature under salt for a year. The plums are picked when still sour and by maturation develop an acidulated and salty taste which is a perfect accompaniment for all vegetables dishes.
La Finestra sul Cielo offers you a complete range of Umeboshi and derivative products:
- Whole Umeboshi Ryujin: Ume plums matured for a year in wooden barrels with sea salt.
- Umeboshi Ryujin Purée: to achieve this product, the Ume is finely strained after the maturation, so as to be ready for the preparation of sauces or for adding to cereals or vegetable dishes.
- Umeboshi Ohindo Acidulate: is obtained by draining the acidulated and salty liquid which is produced by maturation of the Umeboshi. It can be used as normal vinegar, but is already salted: it cans season salads and it is therefore enough to add only a little oil.
Umeboshi has a special use in the preparation of small pasta: its taste and digestive properties make it a very pleasing after meal.
Originally from China, where its used has been recorded for more than 3,000 years, the fruit of the Ume is frequently considered to be a plum ( often people talk about Umeboshi plums), but in reality they are closer to apricots both botanically and in appearance and taste.
Introduced in Japan around 1,500 years ago, the was rapidly transformed, adapting to the new environment: Japanese Ume are round, fleshy and with an acidulated taste, while those in China and Taiwan are small, oval, with large pips and an often thick skin and have a more slightly bitter taste.
The Ume is a tree which is one of the dearest to the Japanese spirit: it flourishes in February, in the coldest period of the year, and is therefore respected for its strength in adversity. Together with the pine and bamboo it is known as one of the “three friends of the intense cold”.
Fruit from the Ume reaches its maximum size and succulence in mid June, during the rainy season. If left on the tree the fruit becomes yellow and with a sweet enough taste but, to prepare the Umeboshi, the Ume fruits are always picked green, when their citric acid content is the maximum.
Part of the quality that has been traditionally attributed to the Umeboshi, is indeed probably due to its citric acid content. It is in fact well known that this substance helps to better metabolize lactic acid which forms in tissues after exercise, or the metabolic acids which develop following the consumption of acidifying foods (animal proteins, confectionery, etc). It should also be known that citric acid eases the intestinal absorption of important minerals such as Iron, Calcium and Magnesium, and these minerals, just like the same salt with which the Umeboshi is placed for maturation, all possess alkalinizing effects.
Whatever the scientific bases, all Japanese families have traditionally considered the Umeboshi as a flavoursome condiment and, at the same time, a natural assistance for the well being of the human system, and have given willing time and energy to prepare this condiment at home. Even in the very modern Japan of today, some families continue this tradition.
Biological Umeboshi Ryujin
Mr Sokawa, who produces Umeboshi Ryujin, cultivates his Ume biologically. It is a matter of his personal commitment as regards the distribution of natural foods, a commitment taken on following successes personally obtained with the practice of macrobiotics.
He is an agrarian technician and, besides cultivating his own orchard, follows the cultivations of neighbours that practice the biological method, assisting them in the pruning and looking after plants. He then buys the harvest, which he uses together with his own for the production of his Umeboshi. No chemical products are used on these trees: only annual pruning is practiced, to encourage the growth of the fruits.
Mr Sokawa prepares his biological Umeboshi Ryujin completely by hand, with the care and attention of whoever understands the value of such a precious food.
Picked in later June, when the content in citric acid is at its greatest, the succulent and still green fruits are soaked in water overnight, to remove the bitter flavour that they have. In the morning the water is drained away and the Ume is transferred to the vats in which they mature.
Firstly a layer of fruits is placed in the bottom, then one of salt, then fruits again, then salt… and so on until the container is filled. Given that with time the salt tends to descend lower down, and also to avoid the formation of mould, two thirds of sale are places as a superficial cover layer.
A wooden cover is placed on all, on which stones are piled up to obtain some pressure. Thus the first maturation phase starts which lasts for around a month.
At the end of July, the rain season leaves a blank space for beautiful and dry weather: the Ume is then removed from the vats and spread out on bamboo mats and dried in the open for a week. In this way excess liquid which they still contain is dispersed, and the fruits acquire the coarse appearance of the Umeboshi. They are then ready to begin the second maturation phase.
From the salt and Ume mixture, a certain quantity of acidulated liquid is formed during month passed: it is the Umeboshi Acidulate: this is drained from the vat and bottled, to be used as a condiment for salads, vegetable and cereal dishes. A part of the Acidulate is therefore left in the container and Shiso leaves are added to this. Shiso is a plant with violet leaves which, besides imparting their characteristic colour to the Umeboshi, possesses natural preserving proprieties, and therefore facilitates the perfect preservation of fruits during the second maturation period.
The fruits dried in the sun are at this point put back into the vat, with the Acidulate and the Shiso leaves, and they mature for a year, until the have developed all of their flavour and all of their quality.
A part of the Umeboshi is finally stone and ground to obtain the Umeboshi purée, a flavoured cream already ready to prepare sauces or to be in cooking as a salt substitute.
The uses of Umeboshi are innumerable: it can be used raw, in chunks, to accompany cereals or vegetables, or in cooking instead of salt, or to prepare sauces, special dishes and drinks, while the Umeboshi Acidulate can validly replace wine vinegar and salt as a condiment for salads.
It is no mystery that pasta has been known in the East since very ancient times, but not everyone knows that in Japan the preparation of some varieties of pasta – in particular those based on black wheat, Soba, have been perfected as has never occurred in any other place in the world. So eating a cup of black wheat spaghetti in broth, prepared by hand, with freshly ground flour, in a traditional Japanese “Soba Shop”, is a memorable experience.
A peculiarity of Japanese pasta is that it is prepared with malleable wheat or black wheat grain, cereals which have less cooking than the hard grain. Thus, to impart its major consistency, it is produced adding salt to the flour in the dough: therefore when it is cooked, it is not necessary to add salt to the cooking water. The Soba cooks in one – two minutes, while Udon requires three to four minutes of cooking.
Japanese pasta can be seasoned as local, but gives its best when it is consumed with a hot broth. To prepare it, you can use a cube of vegetal broth, or a packet of instant Miso soup.
Another very adapted way to taste Soba and Udon is that of salting it in a frying pan with fine cut vegetables after having cooked them and strained them in cold water, possibly adding prawns, seasoning all for cooking with a little Soya sauce.
La Finestra sul Cielo gives you a truly special range of products, that is to say the extraordinary pasts crafted by the Sakurai family:
- Soba Sakurai 100% black wheat: produced only with black wheat and water, requires very brief cooking, two or three minutes in non salted boiling water. It is the most difficult to cook well, but it also offers a more intense taste and particular of black wheat.
- Artemisia Soba Sakurai: prepared by adding Japanese Artemisia, is a speciality with a particular taste.
- Rice Udon Sakurai: obtained form whole rice flours and malleable wheat, the Udon are light and tasty tagliatellini.
- Bifun: are very soft spaghettini similar to those Chinese, but produced with attention to all Japanese quality.
Sakurai: the art of Japanese pasta
Pasta was introduced in Japan from China towards 700 AD, together with many other cultural and religious elements. It was a matter of the first Udon, tagliatellini of malleable wheat which met with enormous success, especially in the province of Osaka and generally in the southern part of the country.
Instead Soba, prepared with Black Wheat, is a food characteristic of a cooler climate, and is more popular in the mountainous areas of central and northern Japan.
The first black wheat spaghetti was introduced in relatively recent times. Previously this cereal, even if already known in more remote antiquity and probably introduced in central Asia, was consumed only in the form of grains and small flour gnocchi.
At the beginning Soba was produced only with Black Wheat, but during the Genroku period (end of 1600) the recipe was modified with the addition of malleable wheat flour. From then on this new preparation rapidly became the preferred of Japanese consumers, also because the addition of wheat flour imparted more resistance to cooking.
The pasta of the Sakurai family
During its long history the Sakurai family has worked in the production of varied foods, among them Tofu, and has managed a cereals mill for a long time. Due to their in depth knowledge of cereals and flours, the members of the family decided to begin to produce pasta at the beginning of this century. Thus in 1911, they founded their company, Sakurai Shokuhin, in the area of Gifu, an area renowned for its clean and rural environment.
Even today the Sakurai family freshly grinds the cereals used for the production of their own pasta, and this gives their products a special quality, also recognized by whoever loves the full taste of fresh pasta.
Members of the family are associated with M.O.A. (Mokichi Okada Association), a religious group which promotes biological agriculture and natural food as parts of its life principles. For this reason the Sakurai family is able to offer Soba and Udon achieved with biologically cultivated cereals and prepared with the very careful attention of those who have a deep belief in the value of their work.
The Sakurai family produces its pasta with biological cereals from the best production zones, sea salt and water from a well.
Production began with the adding of salt to the water which served for the dough. Japanese pasta is indeed already salted, and does not require any more salt in cooking. The quantity of salt is of great importance for the final result: if it is too little the pasta loses consistency and does not hold cooking, while if it is too much, the flavour is excessively strong and the consistency too hard.
Therefore the flours are mixed into suitable proportions and left to rest to allow the gluten to develop its binding action. The mixture is then later kneaded, reduced to soft sheets and cut into fine spaghetti of a length of three-four metres.
At this point the pasta, hung from steel bars, is left to dry naturally at room temperature for thirty hours, in rooms where the air is held in movement by large ventilators. The Sakurai family does not use drying rooms to dry its pasta because, not being produced from only hard wheat similar to ours, this would not alter the flavour and consistency. The drying in air procedure is long and delicate but, as with the use of freshly ground flour, it is carried out accurately and preserves the product’s final smoked flavour.
When they are perfectly dry, the spaghetti is finally cut in the right measure and packaged.
Japanese speciality: Shiitake mushrooms
Gli Shiitake are mountain mushrooms, which grow on oak trunks.
The fleshy cap is resistant, very tasty and represents a basic flavour in Japanese cooking. As well as Kombu seaweed and soya sauce, these mushrooms are also an essential ingredient of another basic dish in Japanese cooking, known as dashi, a basic broth with which black wheat spaghetti or rice is consumed.
During the last few years the popularity of Shiitake has passed the Japanese borders to be distributed in the United States and in Europe: this is owing to its truly exceptional taste, which gave rise to interest in the scientific community for its special nutritional qualities.
Cultivation begins preparing the oak trunks, which are cut in a length of around one metre and a half and are fastened one to another at the foot, so as to create a structure where the mushrooms can find ample growth space. Then, in incisions practiced in the trunks, the spores of the mushrooms are triggered off and their low growth awakens to complete maturation: the Shiitake can take up to a month to mature completely. When the mushrooms are completely developed, they are dried in the air alternating periods of exposure to the sun and shelter in the shade. The marvelous natural environment can be seen in the woody hills of the Izu peninsula, a national Japanese park, in which this process develops.
To taste the Shiitake, place the mushrooms in cold water to soften, head down, for a few years, then unwrap the stalk and cut the cap into thin slices. Add in cooking to the rice, or use them in the preparation of the pasta sauce.
- Shiitake Donko 1° quality: Donko is the Shiitake from a cap which is more often and partially closed, better for taste and nutritional qualities.
- Shiitake Nami Donko: presents a quality intermediating between Donko and Koshin, the shiitake from the soft cap, light and open with nutritional qualities and inferior taste.
- Mixed Shiitake: is a Shiitake mixture of various degrees, with it being sometimes roasted during the drying process and marketed with its mixed packaging.
Japanese speciality: Appetizing vegetable side salad
These appetizing side salads are fermented vegetables which, in various forms, are part of traditional eating habits all over the world: it suffices to think of sauerkraut, turnips under marc and many other traditional preparations.
Japanese side salads are flavoured and left alone, without any other condiment, to really give cereal dishes a revival. They are also a very pleasant starter, appetizer or apertif.
La Finestra sul Cielo offers you:
Tukuan is a salad with a very strong and decisive flavour and this is a matter of gigantic Japanese radish (Daikon) placed to ferment for a few months under salt. After washing it with a current of water, cut it into thin slices to stimulate all of the flavour, and consume it together with rice or other cereals.
The Daikon Gherkin and Ginger salads, offer more delicate variants on the same theme: fermented in acidulated rice mixtures or umeboshi and sea salt, with the adding of liquorice and Shiso leaves, to offer a pleasing choice between integral and always appetizing flavours.
Shiso leaves are the same made to mature for the preparation of the famous Umeboshi: their acidulated and salty flavour is a good accompaniment for vegetable dishes, and the entire leaf can also be used to prepare Tofu or cereal spring rolls.
The Bardana is a radish which, in our country, is usually only available wild, while in Japan it is extensively cultivated. In this way the taste is more delicate and pleasant. The Bardana and the dry Daikon (gigantic Japanese radish cut into fine strips and then dried) are prepared leaving them to soak for half an hour and then adding them to stewed vegetables or to soups.
Japanese speciality: Kuzu
Kuzu is a creeping plant which grows spontaneously all over Japan adapted for more impoverished earths, distributed on mountain slopes and defending the soil from erosion.
Such is the strength of this plant, that its flexible branches can also grow 15 metres in a season, while its roots can reach 100 metres in length. The Kuzu is indeed a perennial and long living plant, able to live for up to 100 years. Given that it is leguminous, its roots host bacteria which create nitrogen from the air in the ground, fertilizing it. In winter its leaves fall creating humus. There are numerous volcanoes in Japan: after an eruption, when the lava has solidified, the Kuzu is the first plant to grow on the bleak and sterile surface, rendering it fertile again with the passing of the seasons.
Even more so with its qualities as a plant useful for the environment and extraordinarily resistant, the Kuzu moreover owes its popularity to the starch extracted from its roots, used for centuries both as a food and as a natural remedy.
The Morino family has been producing superior Kuzu for more than 300 years, according to a method handed down over more than fifteen generations. The company is situated in the province of Yoshino, a mountainous region representing the heart of Japanese tradition. It is necessary to know that the working of quality Kuzu takes place in the winter, when the plant has lost its leaves and energy and the lymph is concentrated in the roots, and that the plants considered to be better are precisely those which have grown in the mountains, strengthened by their fight against the cold weather and natural adversities.
The local people climb up the mountains and extract the long roots out of the ground with an ice pick, cut it into pieces of around a metre, and transport them in large bundles to the lorry which takes them to the factory. Here the roots, thick and fibrous, are squeezed and washed in the cold water from the mountain, giving rise to a dough which is filtered to remove the coarser fibres. The milky water which results from this is left to rest in large containers where the starch is deposited forming layers: the more subtle impurities rise to the surface, while the fibres and the thicker materials are placed carefully on the base. The upper and lower layers are both removed and only the middle layer is kept. This is again subjected to washing and sedimentation, and the operation is repeated many times, until only an impalpable powder remains: it is a starch of very high quality which will be deposited to form a hard and thick crust.
This hard sediment is broken into blocks and left to dry shaded from the sun for 2-3 months; at the end of this period the icy and dry air from the mountains has given it all of its humidity, and the Kuzu can be packed. All of the process must be developed in the period between December and March, because if the temperature of the air is too high fermentation will start which will ruin the starch.
The Morino family is proud of its traditional way of working, of the quality of the roots and purity of the well water used to make its Kuzu.
Indeed in Japan two types of kuzu are marketed: the "hon kuzu " or "vero kuzu" and the " nami kuzu”, produced with sweet potato starch, or with a mixture of kuzu starch (from 15 to 50%) and sweet potato. The hon kuzu, in its turn, can also be produced with lower quality starches, prepared mechanically.
Japanese speciality: Mirin
Mirin is a very sweet wine from rice. It is used most often in the kitchen to supplement the flavour of fish or seitan dishes: adding some drops in cooking for the absolutely special effect of this wine. And on a cold winter day you can try this Asian ancestor of our punch: add a part of Mirin to two parts of boiling Mu tea and drink hot.
Mirin is a very sweet wine obtained from the fermentation of glutinous rice and one of the more refined basic ingredients in Japanese cooking, known as "Kaiseki".
In Kaiseki cooking every dish must be perfect and with quintessential taste and presentation: in this the ingredients are combined taking account of both the harmony between foods and the aesthetic beauty of the result.
It is a matter of an art which is bases on the subtle orchestration of flavours, and for this purpose uses four main condiments: Shoyu, rice acidulate, Dashi (broth prepared with Kombu and possibly Bonito seaweed, that is to say fish flakes), and Mirin. Each of these condiments contributes to the equilibrium of the dish with its particular qualities: the aim of Mirin is to stimulate the more delicate flavours and soften those which are too strong, creating harmony.
The production of Mirin started 500 ago in the Muromachi period; it was prepared adding glutinous rice to Sake, and was consumed as a drink. Given that it tended to acidify quickly, it use was therefore limited.
Following this the use of a rice distillate was also learned for its preparation, which infinitely lengthened its preservation time, and from then on Mirin became extremely popular. In the Edo period (XVI-X1X0 centuries AD) its use was started more as a condiment than a drink, and gained its place in the kitchen which it still keeps today: in cooking to reinforce delicate flavours, to prepare sauces and marinate foods and to balance basic fish dishes and so on.
Out of 90 Mirin producers active today in Japan, the Sumiya family, producer of Mirin Mikawa, is one of the remaining two traditional distilleries: all of the others prepare a commercial product.
The "Mikawa" originates from the production zone, the most famous in Japan for the preparation of Mirin. The "authentic" name ("hon-kaku") originates from absolutely natural and traditional working to which the ingredients are subjected.
The Sumiya family infact personally prepares all of the ingredients necessary for the production of its Mirin: rice, Koji rice and rice distillate (Shochu).
The Koji is prepared inoculating the ferment spores on steam cooked rice, and leaving it to mature at controlled temperatures for 48 hours. The Shochu is prepared adding Koji and water to steam cooked rice, making it ferment for 1 – 2 months and distilling to obtain a kind of liquor. The true and proper preparation of Mirin begins with the cleaning of the glutinous rice and its steam cooking. The glutinous rice is then mixed with koji and the shochu and left to ferment for 2-3 months, mixing regularly: the koji ferments demolish the starch from the glutinous rice, producing a sweet and alcoholic mixture.
This is pressed to extract liquid; the remaining solids are use to prepare specific appetizer vegetable side salads, while the liquid is left to ferment for another six months until it is completely matured. Then it can be filtered and bottled. Nine months of working have rendered the Mikawa Mirin able to occupy the position that is expected of it in better cooking.
You can use Mirin in cooking your tofu on a plate (which gives off a delicate perfume), or seitan on a plate (which rounds off and completes the taste), or with fish (which stimulates the flavour and balances its quality in animal food), or to create inimitable broths (you follow the recipe in the kombu broth in the seaweed section, adding a little Mirin into the cooking), and also to prepare delicious sauces.
Japanese speciality: Mochi
Mochi was a food reserved for festivals when Japan was a poor country: this is a matter of delicious pats made from a special variety of rice (the so called “sweet rice”, even if it is not sweet) which is steam cooked and then crushed to form a thick and glutinous dough, which is then made to dry. The sweet rice parts can be cooked in a frying pan or more easily, in the oven. Cut them in half or in cubes and place them in the oven at 200°, with a little distance between them: they will surprisingly inflate in a few minutes. Remove them from the oven before they dry out too much, flavour them with a few drops of Soya Sauce.
Mochi is a special product obtained by crushing the so called cooked “sweet” rice (also called “glutinous" for its consistency, although it does not contain gluten), until it is transformed into a thick and glutinous dough.
The preparation of Mochi requires a lot of energy. Traditionally it is ground by and in large wooden mortars, using a long and heavy pestle managed with both hands; the dough which forms in subdivided into small pieces and left to dry. It is a typical winter food, because the storage energy gives heat, strength and vitality.
Nobuyuki Kojima has worked with rice for all of his life, being born in a family of cereal marketeers. As a young man he had the opportunity to experiment in depth with Macrobiotics and the value of whole rice for health and his experience created an aspiration to make foods of a superior quality with whole rice.
Kojima uses sweet rice for his production which is freshly scraped for every Mochi section. The rice is accurately washed and left to soak to soften; it is then steam cooked. Then it is broken and ground with large mechanical mortars until the grains are based together and acquire the characteristic thick and glutinous consistency. At this point it is kept cold for three days because it hardens.
The Mochi is finally cut into portions and immediately vacuum packaged to keep it fresh; it presents itself with the appearance of small rectangular pastries, read to be cooked in a few minutes.
Kojima also prepares Artemisia Mochi.
Japanese speciality: dryTofu
Dry Tofu, the so called “soya cheese” is well known in its fresh form. But it can be just as interesting used dry offering an incredible protein concentrate (more than 50% of its weight) together with a delicate and versatile flavour, especially adapted to be cooked together with vegetable in a rich winter stew. Soak it for a quarter of an hour, cut it to the desired size and add to stews or Miso soups.
Mizoguchi, the dry Tofu, is an excellent example of how a food of great energy and nutritional value able to be preserved for a long time can be obtained with absolutely natural methods. Dry Tofu is a totally Japanese invention which began in 1225, in the Monte Koya Monastery.
The Monte Koya Monastery looms up alone in a large forest of cedars on a mountain to the south of Kyoto, and is the centre of the esoteric Shingon Buddhism School. The Monte Koya monks sought a method to preserve Tofu for a longer time and, starting with its freezing, planned an ingenious dehydration method.
They prepared the Tofu and froze it, then placing it on shelves arranged under shades, leaving to cool for three weeks. Then they threw the frozen Tofu into hot water, spread ice on it and placed it again under shades, this time re-heating the atmosphere with braziers: in a short period of time the Tofu was completely dry, and in this form it kept for approximately four months.
This preparation method was instructed in surrounding villages and in a short period of time the Koya Tofu (so called after the Monastery) became a highly appreciated food and was prepared every year as a food reserve.
The method was then perfected in the Nagano mountains, to the north of Tokyo, in 1575. A famous samurai, Takeda Shingen, wanted to have a nutritious food able to be preserved for a long time so that his soldiers could easily carry it with them. To do this, they prepared Tofu, pressed it thoroughly and froze it, then turned it on to bamboo mats, leaving it sub zero temperatures for a week. They then weighed the Tofu pieces, linked together with rice straw strips, to dry in the shade and in the cold for a few weeks: the heat in the day and the cold in the night dried it completely, in as much as its preservation was very prolonged. This method, simpler than the previous, was still very lucrative, and from then on the province of Nagano became the centre of dry Tofu production, both on a family level and a commercial level; even today, in that region you can still see the pieces of Tofu hung to dry under the roofs of the country houses in the winter.
Mizoguchi, which is also the producer of Kanten (see the section dedicated to seaweed), is one of the few to still prepare dry Tofu in the traditional way, in as much as its activity is limited to ten weeks in the year, from the beginning of December to mid February: only in this period is the temperature favourable at 5 - 10 degrees below zero.
The production process begins with the preparation of the Tofu. The soya beans are soaked overnight, then ground with stone milling machine to obtain a thick cream. They are then rapidly cooked under pressure, placed in cotton bags and pressed to extract the soya milk. At this point the rennet is added and also the Nigari.
The curdled milk is poured between Tofu into wooden boxes made of cedar (they are holed boxes which allow sliding via the residual liquid, while the Tofu remains inside), and left to coagulate. The Tofu is then cut into square strips, arranged on bamboo trays and left out in the cold winter night air. The Tofu freezes completely, and the day after the single pieces are linked together with rice straw strips in long chains. These are hung to dry for 15 - 20 days, until all of the humidity has been removed by alternating between the night’s freeze and day’s thaw.
The Mizoguchi dry Tofu is an extraordinarily rich food, with more than 50% of it being formed by precious soya proteins. It keeps for a long time without needing to be kept cold, and is consumed by simply leaving it to become fresh again in water a few minutes before cooking it. In addition Tofu proteins are among those most easily used in parts of the system out of all vegetables, apart from whole rice.
Japanese speciality: Zeni Fu
Zeni Fu: this is gluten from a round grain or offered in flat leaves. Very light and versatile, Zeni Fu is placed in left to soak for a few minutes, to then be added to stews, or floured and salted in a frying pan with a little oil. Season it with a little Soya Sauce.
Japan has a very special role in Tea culture. Indeed why ever, in this case, have the Japanese people been able to introduce a foreign habit and refine it, with the famous tea ceremony, up to the point of making it become an art and an important part of the culture and national mindset.
The Japanese have able to use all the tea plant offers to a maximum, creating various types of drinks from these with different characteristics between them. It goes from classic Sencha, Green Tea, prepared with the plant’s young leaves, to Bancha, or light Tea, prepared with completely grown and lightly toasted leaves, up to Kukicha, the “tea of sprigs” obtained using the finest sprigs and better known as the Drink of Tea Years.
If Green Tea is consumed especially to stimulate, the Bancha is appreciated for being a bland stimulant (with a lower theine content than that of green tea) and a good digestive with fine meals, while the Kukicha – containing only very small quantities of theine – is considered to be a depurative and digestive tea adapted for all, and especially those who wish to limit their theine or caffeine consumption without resorting to artificially decaffeinated tea.
While Green Tea and Bancha are prepared for infusion, in the usual way, using around a teaspoon of tea per cup, or a sachet for one – two cups of water, Kukicha requires a brief boiling. To prepare it, boil a tablespoon of Kukicha in a litre of water for five minutes and then filtered. Kukicha preserves well for a few days (in the fridge in the summer), and can be reheated. It is also excellent drunk cold on a hot summer’s day, especially if some mint leaves are added or a little apple juice.
Mu Tea is a story apart. It is not in reality a product from Tea plants, but a mixture of herbs which has its roots in traditional oriental herbalism. In Japanese Mu means emptiness, that is to day – in Japanese spirituality – the infinite, the origin of everything, a state of harmony and absolute equilibrium. Mu contains Ginseng together with another fifteen hers which serve to balance, smooth and complete the effect of this potent root: the result is an extraordinary drink, warming and reinforcing with an absolutely delicious flavour and penetrating scent. Mu is prepared by boiling a sachet in half a litre of water for a five to fifteen minute period of time, according to how strong the tea desired. Like Kuchicha, it can keep for a few days and in addition to being reheated can also be drunk cold in the summer.
La Finestra sul Cielo offers you the precious teas of the Nagata family, produced in the region of Uji, which for centuries has produced tea intended for the Imperial court.
- Sencha Uji Green Tea: produced with the sprout and young spring leaves of the tea plant, not fermented. – Light Hojicha Uji Tea: obtained with fully developed tea leaves, not fermented and lightly toasted.
- Kukicha Uji Tea from sprigs: produced mainly with fine sprigs of the tea plant, not fermented and lightly toasted.
- Mu 16 Herbs: the drink for harmony and vitality with a Ginseng base along with other herbs and roots.
- Oolong Uji Tea: tea fermented according to the Indian process.
The “way” of tea and its wake up flavour
The plant and the cultivation of Tea was introduced in Japan by the Chinese in the XII century. It was the Master Buddhist Zen Eisai who, returning from the continent, introduced the drink to his country to contrast the abuse of alcohol which was taking place among the nobility of his time. The Japanese people seized this new custom with their usual enthusiasm, transforming it into an art and culture called Cha Do, that is to say "the Way of Tea". The summit of this art took its form in the famous Tea Ceremony, in the course of which the simple appreciation of a cup of tea, owing to a special atmosphere and a refined ritual of gestures, leads to an intense mental presence, opening and sharing of the experience between participants.
The drink was also highly appreciated by the monks for its capacity of maintaining this attention without producing agitation, a quality especially pleasing for those who practice meditation.
The Japanese region which has the deepest and most ancient roots in the cultivation of tea is that surrounding the city of Uji: for centuries it has supplied tea to temples, to the court and to the aristocracy of Kyoto, Nara and the rest of the country.
Nagata Cha-En, which produces its own tea, has its own registered office in Uji, and carried out all of its own cultivations in accordance with biological agricultural methods. This is a company immersed in an ambiance of rarefied simplicity and elegance, where the subtle scent of tea left to mature or that which is intense and penetrating from the toasted sprigs can be enjoyed, or keeping the stone grinding to produce the powder of the very highly esteemed product extremely slowly and cautiously intended for the Tea ceremony.
Biologically cultivated with care, the Tea bush has longevity and can also live for two hundred years. Contrary to this, chemical cultivations supply a quantitatively large seasonal harvest which exhausts the plant after twenty years. Mr Nagata has no doubt as to which of the two processes meet the highest quality that he claims for his own products. The tea of Nagata Cha-En has another interesting peculiarity: it is cultivated in the mountains. This gives a special and very intense flavour to the leaves which, under the action of the cold and a drier climate, also change form becoming slightly serrated at the edges.
Nagata Cha-En produces different types of tea:
Kukicha (Tea aged three years in sprigs)
Kukicha is composed of a mixture of three tea plant components:
• sprigs aged three years cut from the lower part of the plant
• stronger sprigs, harvested every ten years, generally in winter
• softer sprigs and leaves, harvested every year in March and June (they are the product of pruning which stimulates the plant to produced new sprouts, used for the production of green tea).
The various sprigs are harvested, left to dry in the open air and laid to rest for a year to acquire taste. After this they are cut and chosen according to size and toasted for 15 - 20 minutes. They are packaged immediately after.
Kukicha is very poor in caffeine, and is the drink most advised for daily use in macrobiotics.
Hojicha (Bancha Tea or a light tea in leaves)
Hojicha is prepared with leaves from the tea plant obtained after the harvesting of sprouts which are used to prepare green tea. The leaves are harvested, passed to stem for two or three minutes, rolled up and finally slowly dried in an oven to stop any fermentation process. The leaves also, like the sprigs, are then left to rest for a year and after this toasted and packaged.
Hojicha has a certain, but only modest, caffeine content; its use is therefore indicated when a delicately stimulating drink is desired.
Sencha (Green tea)
Sencha is the name generally indicating Green Tea, although there are different varieties and qualities. When the green leaves are pruned in March, the shrub has new sprouts of a brilliant colour green within around six weeks, which reach a length of 10 centimetres. These new small leaves are cut, passed to stem for one or two minutes, rolled up and rapidly dried in the oven. Morsels and the larger leaves are excluded from the selection, while those of average size become Sencha.
Sencha is a tea with an unmistakable flavour, rich in caffeine. It is used when a drink with a stimulating effect is desired, but smoother compared to coffee.
Ulon Cha (Oolong Tea)
This is a Chinese style tea, prepared with the same leaves as Sencha, but left to ferment for eight – nine hours before being dried in the oven. It is a stimulant with a full taste, made of half Japanese green tea and Indian black tea.
Japanese speciality: Koji
Koji is an important ingredient in the preparation of some varieties of Miso and is a steam cooked whole rice to which the spores of a mould, aspergyllus oryzae, are added. A little like “the mother of vinegar” which is added to wine to produce vinegar, Koji is added to cooked rice to prepare a delicious and very sweet rice pudding, Amasake, owing to the properties of the aspergyllus which severs the cereal starches to make more simple sugars.