Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Won't Miss #30 - Japanese cheese (reflection)

The type of food you enjoy is entirely a subjective matter. Whether we want to believe it or not, most of us like what we are used to. Though the human brain is designed to desire certain types of things more than others, namely, sweet, fatty, and salty food, the degree to which we like these things is governed by experience rather than any sort of objective measure. Whether you like subtle sweetness or blast in your mouth sweetness is a matter of experience and biology. Americans aren't born congenitally desirous of Twinkies. They learn to like them. In general, you like what you like because it's what you've had before. 

From an evolutionary viewpoint, this makes perfect sense. If you've been eating something for years and you haven't been poisoned by it for died of  a lack nourishment, then it's good to seek out that same experience. Familiarity breeds fondness because it encourages survival. These are the reasons why I get irritated at the opinion that one type of cuisine is "superior" to another. Most of us didn't choose our tastes, they were foisted upon us by culture. Sure, we can alter them if we have the will and desire to do so, but the biochemical cards aren't encouraging us to do so.

All of that being said, from my totally subjective and ethnocentric viewpoint, Japanese cheese remains a major failure in most respects. With the exception of the little wheels of Camembert that you can pick up nearly anywhere (including convenience stores), the overwhelming majority is plastic- or foil-wrapped slices of processed cheese. I absolutely continue to be grateful that I don't have to deal with the limited options for cheese that I had in Japan.


  1. And I am forever grateful for good Tillamook Cheese (medium, sharp and extra sharp) that is available at the Navy Commissary. It is the one thing I buy there with no apologies whatsoever.

  2. Although I understand completely where you are coming from, Japan does produce good cheeses. Here is a Japanese language blog post showing the amazing variety of real cheese made in Japan.


    The problem is that few to none are available in your neighborhood supermarket. You need to look to department store cheese shops, specialty stores, slightly "upscale" markets or wine shops, local souvenir places away from the cities, and the like. With the tariffs levied on imports, they aren't expensive compared to cheeses made overseas.

    Appreciating Japanese cheese is a lot like nihonshu (sake), though. Many of the best are produced in small lots by small producers, and as soon as you find something amazing, it's sold out until the next batch several months or a year later.

    Unlike with sake, though, the big cheese producers only turn out nominally edible processed sliced cheese-like-food-product, which happens to be available everywhere.

  3. I came to Japan about a week ago and so far, the cheese in the nearby grocery store is a major disappointment. Maybe I'll give Camembert a try...

    1. It may be that Camembert was the best of a bad lot and I'm overrating it, but it is worth a shot! I recommend the wheels that aren't sold in pre-cut wedges, of course!

      Let me know what you think!

  4. Oh, I love this post. My wife's family lives in a town of about 100,000 in Mie. In 1996, the first time I went to Japan, there simply was NO cheese. None. Zip. Nada. Then every year it got a little bit better. It still is quite dreadful for someone who just wants a 'hunk' of cheddar.

    Alas, Rakuten came to my rescue with some wonderful wasabi cheese. Truly delicious, but again a big chunk of cheddar (dirt cheap in the States of course!) is hard to come by.

    And....the packaging of the wasabi cheese. Classic Japanese: each individually wrap into very small bite sized snacks, meticulously clean. Great taste, but overly expensive.

  5. Funny post. Not sure if my original post got published, but when I first went to Japan in 1996 to my wife's hometown of 100,000 in Mie there was NO cheese at all....except cheez 'whiz'. Awful.

    It's gotten better, but the store cheese it still pretty bad and brick cheese? NEVER.

    Rakuten has some wasabi cheese which is quite good. However, what Americans take for granted - a block of dirt cheap cheddar (y'know, government cheese!) - cannot be found in Japan.

    Then again, my $2 slab of saba bought in a Japan supermarket would cost me $8 (minimum) in America!


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