It was a pleasure to document the method of producing handmade miso (fermented soybean paste) in Shimobe this weekend. The process of making miso is labour-intensive, but traditional condiments like miso are worth the effort, don’t you think?
First, organically-grown Akebono soybeans were soaked in cold spring water for 24 hours. Then, the beans were cooked in a covered pot for 2 hours.
Next, the beans were removed from the pot and drained. The participants actually drank the remaining hot water from the pot as a slightly sweet health tonic before setting to work.
The beans were then ground into a mash.
Once the mashed beans were dumped on a large cheesecloth, the participants quickly set to work spreading the beans out.
Once the mashed beans were spread out by hand, the participants used fans and wooden shamoji (rice paddles) to cool the mash.
Once the steam had completely evaporated and the beans were no longer warm to the touch, the mash was separated into 2 kg portions. At this point, 700 grams of rice koji (a mold also know as aspergillus oryzae) and 700 grams of wheat koji were added.
Then, 400 grams of salt was added to the mixture.
At this point, the participants began to knead the mixture for about 30 minutes. Although the participants began kneading with great enthusiasm, everyone looked exhausted by the end of the process. It is important to note that although all the ingredients are the same, the taste of the end product differs according to the amount of kneading, the strength of the individual, and the differing temperatures of each individual’s hands.
A cup of cold water was added midway through the kneading process to soften the mixture a bit.
Next, the miso was rolled into balls and thrown into buckets to remove as much air as possible. The method of removing air reminded me of how one removes air from clay before making a pot.
This is what the bucket looks like after balls of miso have been thrown inside.
Then the participants continued to work the miso in their buckets until the surface of the miso was completely flat.
Finally, alcohol wipes were used to sanitize the containers. Of course the wipes don’t come into contact with the miso.
The miso was then placed in a cool room. As you can see, the covers have been removed from the new buckets of miso. The buckets remain uncovered for a week. The miso must then sit for an entire year before it is ready to use. Apparently, any mold that grows on the surface of the miso is removed and discarded.
Here are a few of the dishes that were served with lunch. In the foreground, there is a stew of pork and various vegetables. There are also two different types of beans, two types of daikon (winter radish) pickles, and kimchi (spicy Korean pickles). The food was very delicious.
These are the participants sitting down to lunch. The owners of the hot spring inn, Gensenkan, can be seen seated at the head of the table. The owners are the 8th generation proprietors of the 24-room inn and the 58th generation operators of the hot spring.
One thing that really surprised me was that men and women share the same 1300-year-old hot spring at Gensenkan. As everyone covered themselves with a towel, it felt very natural to soak together. In fact, it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. The spring water comes straight out of the ground without the need for pipes. Also, the water is a cool 30-32 degrees Celsius. Warriors recovered from battle for centuries in this very spot as the water is said to have special healing powers. Centuries later, people still come to enjoy the health benefits of Gensenkan.
UPDATE: February 2018
The proprietress told me that they have added a new final step to preparing miso which might be of interest if you plan to make your own. As a last step, spread a thin layer of last year’s miso on the surface of your new miso. This step will help prevent mold and also ensure that your miso preserves the flavours of past miso.