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Release | Yoko Sasaki

“Japacheese” makes Japanese style cheese in the center of Asahikawa

To create Japanese style cheese which people can naturally have it in their everyday meal. 
So the name of the brand is “Japacheese” which stands for Japan and cheese. 

I met Hidetsugu Nagao, the cheese artisan who runs the studio/shop at Kaimono Koen in Asahikawa. 

alt、▲お店の前で、ハイ、チーズ!の長尾英次さんと奥様の絵里子さん▲“Say cheese!” in front of the store. Hidetsugu Nagao and his wife, Eriko. 


To become “a tofu shop in the town” 

You can find freshly made cheese in the studio at the back of the store on the shelves of “Japacheese.” 

Grandmas in the neighborhood and dads and moms on their way to home walk into the store and buy cheese as they chat with Hidetsugu and Eriko; like how to eat the cheese or what cheese they should buy today. 

“I aim to become a tofu shop in the town which used to be everywhere in the past.” As he said, this store has some nostalgic and relaxing atmosphere which makes Kaimono Koen looks like a friendly shopping street used to exist in the past. 

 alt、 ▲店内の冷蔵ケースには、できたてのナチュラルチーズがいっぱい▲There are many freshly made natural cheese in the refrigerator of the store. 

 alt、 ▲店頭のカウンターには、初めてのお客様でも気兼ねなく試食できるようにと、こんな気配りも▲They also offer samplings on the counter so that first-time comers can try without hesitation. 

Hidetsugu Nagao is the second son of the third generation of a dairy farming family in Zao-Cho in Miyagi Prefecture. As his brother did, he went to a dairy farming specialized high school, took a dairy farming degree in the university, then experienced dairy farming training in Wisconsin in the U.S. after he graduated university. 

After that, he worked for Zao Dairy Farming Center for 18 years. His major work was manufacturing, but he also experienced product development and gave technical guidance. As he won one of the highest awards from All Japan Natural Cheese Contest, he surely has a high skill to make cheese which everyone admits. 

Let’s ask few questions to Hidetsugu Nagao, who is working on making mozzarella cheese in the studio. 

Asked himself, again and again, the bittersweet cheese making

“Many people consider mozzarella cheese making is easy as it finished in one day. But it’s not! For example, the fermentation timing is different every time. I need to study every day and for all my life.” 

Hidetsugu Nagao humorously told me but his eyes focused on cheese were serious. 

alt、▲モッツァレラチーズの素・カード(殺菌した牛乳を発酵させ、固めたもの)。「チーズをはじめ、発酵食品は作り始めたらやり直しがきかないんですよね」と長尾さん。失敗しても後から調整すればいいという、安易な考えは通用しないのです▲This is the card (fermented, sterilized, and congealed milk), which is the base of mozzarella cheese. “Including cheese, fermented food can’t start over once you start making.” Hidetsugu Nagao told me. You have to realize that you can’t start over even if you fail, cheese making is not easy. 

 alt、▲手でカードを練って、粒をつぶして、なめらかにする行程。長尾さんは、手の感触で塩梅をつかんでいるようです▲Knead the card, smash the pieces and making it smooth. Hidetsugu Nagao decides when to stop with his feelings on the hands.

alt、▲お餅のように粘るチーズをちぎって丸めて、冷水に。「流通にのせるか、できたてを店で販売するかで、造り方も微妙に違ってくるんですよ」と長尾さん▲Tear sticky cheese like mochi into small pieces, make it in the shape of a ball, and put in the cold water. “The process of making differs slightly depending on if I want to sell freshly made ones at the shop or consider distribution. Hidetsugu said. 

He offered us to watch “string cheese” making using cheddar cheese as well. 

To tell the truth, customers who visit the store can see the studio through the window. 

“I came up with this idea from Asahiyama Zoo’s exhibition. I thought it’s good as I can feel pressure s from people looking at me.”

Well, Hidetsugu seems like a funny person! 

 alt、▲カードを伸ばしながら、「ちょっと水分が多いかな、どうかな」と、自問自答が続いています▲As he stretches the card, he asks himself again and again: “Does it contain too much water? Or no?” 

alt、▲「このピーンと張った感じ、これが大事。あと、光沢があって、しかも表面にボコボコがなければ問題なし。うん、これでいい」。長尾さん、納得がいったようです。▲“This tightness is important. Also, it’s done when cheese becomes shiny, and there is no roughness. Hum, it looks good.” Hidetsugu Nagao seems like satisfied. 

He was extremely cautious when making string cheese. I sampled a piece from the refrigerator. When eating string cheese, it sometimes gets cut in the middle, and you feel sad when that happens, right? However, Japacheese’s string cheese cuts smoothly with fibers like strings.

alt、▲口に含むと、クセのない自然な味が広がる、ジャパチーズの「さけるチーズ」。ちょっとおなかが空いた時のおやつ、お酒のおつまみに、ぴったりのサイズです▲Japacheese’s string cheese has natural flavor without unusual tastes. It is also the right size for snacks and finger food with drinks. 

Hidetsugu asks himself again and again to make Japacheese’s cheese. We can call it it’s a bittersweet cheese making. Many people like their cheese as it’s natural and fresh. 

alt、▲右から「トマトモッツァレラチーズ」100g756円、「さけるチーズ」50g378円、「チェダーチーズ」100g540円▲From the right: “Tomato Mozzarella Cheese” 756 yen/100g, “String Cheese” 378 yen/50g, “Cheddar Cheese” 540 yen/100g


From hating Asahikawa to loving Asahikawa

Hidetsugu opened “Japacheese” in 2015. The Great EastJapan Earthquake was his turning point. 

“My wife gave birth to our second son in Asahikawa on February 27, 2011. I stayed with my family in Asahikawa for a while; then the earthquake happened on the weekend I went back to Miyagi Prefecture. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happened as well. A low dose of radiation was detected in the area where my home was and public buildings, etc., became the target area for decontamination. So my wife and children stayed in Asahikawa, and I decided to live away from the family for the work.” 

alt、▲どんな質問にも丁寧に、相手に伝わっているかどうかを確かめながら語る長尾さん。お店の前の買物公園のテラスで▲Hidetsugu Nagao answered to all my questions carefully and thoughtfully and made sure if I understood what he said. The photo was taken in the terrace of Kaimono Koen in front of the store. 

He worked like a dog to forget loneliness. He missed his family a lot. However, his life and mentality became a mess, and his wife suggested him to move to Asahikawa and live together. However, he considered that moving to Miyagi means he needed to give up on making cheese and betray his co-workers who worked really hard for the reconstruction of Miyagi Prefecture. His dilemma continued for three years. 

“After I decided to live with my family, many people such as chamber of commerce and industry, Asahikawa Shinkin Bank, the design agency, and Asahikawa Industry Research Center, etc., took care of me to start the company and open the shop. Also, people in Asahikawa gave me information and other times took care of my children. People are still very nice to me.” 

He uses Asahikawa Kato Farm’s milk which has a great balanced taste almost in the same quality throughout the year. The distribution of milk is special, and it is usually difficult to stock milk from specific farms. However, he could make this possible from administration and JA supports. 

alt、▲店内の壁やラックには、旭川の知り合いのショップのカードや地元の情報誌などがいっぱい。ちなみに「ジャパチーズ」の書はお子さんの作▲He displays many shop cards from his friends' stores and local magazines on shelves and walls in the store. By the way, the calligraphy piece “Japacheese” is his son’s work. 

“I hated Asahikawa when my wife stayed in Asahikawa for three years. I never knew how good Asahikawa is. However, I understood the reason once I moved here. Now I love this place. People are really nice here.” 

It has been four years since he moved to Asahikawa as he decided to become a resident before opening the store. I could see he is getting close to “a tofu shop in the town” as I saw him talking !how are you?” to people walking around the store. 

alt、▲奥様手作りのファサード。素朴で優しい雰囲気も「ジャパチーズ」の魅力です▲The handmade façade is his wife’s work. The natural and warm atmosphere is also one of the attractions of “Japacheese.” 


 Related Links

- Japacheese
- Japacheese Facebook 
  • “Japacheese” makes Japanese style cheese in the center of Asahikawa

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Yoko Sasaki