Regal status: Hatcho miso is kept in a barrel over two summers and two winters in the Maruya Hatcho Miso factory in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture.
Hatcho miso is produced using an age-old method that imbues it with a special colour and flavour.
MISO tastes different depending on who makes it and where it’s made, as the production method differs by region. One of them, hatcho miso, is known for its reddish hue and rich flavour – characteristics that have earned it regal status in the miso world.
I recently visited the Maruya Hatcho Miso factory along the former Tokaido road in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture.
Huge 2m-by-2m wooden barrels stored there each contain 5½ tonnes of miso and are sealed by piles of stones carefully stacked on top.
There are, generally speaking, three types of miso – kome miso made by mixing rice koji with soya beans, mugi miso made by mixing barley koji, and mame miso made by malting soya beans.
Koji is a substance made by growing a mould called kojikin using grains. Kome miso is the most common type of miso in Japan, but mame miso is often used in the Tokai region. Hatcho miso is considered the king of mame miso.
This miso is made at two factories in Okazaki, and Maruya is one of them. The name “hatcho” comes from the distance between the factory and Okazaki Castle. Hatcho, or eight cho (about 870m), is an old measurement.
There’s no specific record of the origins of miso, but it’s said that hatcho miso has been made since before the Edo period (1603-1867).
“We’re following a method and recipe handed down over the years as faithfully as possible,” said Nobutaro Asai, 64, the president of the firm.
Steamed soya beans are pounded and shaped into balls the size of a child’s fist. Kojikin is sprinkled over it so the soya beans ferment to make bean koji. Bean koji is kept in a barrel with salt and water and sealed with a lid shut tight under about three tonnes of stones.
The koji is placed in barrels to mature over two summers and two winters in a room without controlling the temperature. Compared with other types of miso, hatcho miso is matured over a longer period to produce a rich-flavoured, dusky-red miso.
At the end of the year, the factory becomes busy preparing shipments of miso. A worker wearing long boots stands in a barrel to scoop out the miso. Hatcho miso doesn’t contain much moisture and is firm enough for a person to stand on.
Noriko Yamaguchi, a Maruya employee, gave me a recipe that uses this firm miso. Mince green oba shiso leaves, ginger and spring onions and then mix with miso. Form bite-size pieces of miso and flatten by hand. “The miso is so solid that it doesn’t stick to your hands,” Yamaguchi said. Place on a grill and cook until brown. The grilled yakimiso dish makes a perfect accompaniment to sake.
Another recipe is nimiso. Simply boil any vegetable such as Chinese cabbage or daikon with miso and a bit of water.
“Our miso doesn’t lose its flavour even if it’s boiled for a long time,” Asai said. – The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network