Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Monday 22 February 2016

Visit the ingredients (3) Origin of dairy cattle and cheese in Japan

The oldest ancient cheese called "so" tastes really condensed and crispy, and smells caramel-like fragrant.  It is said to be a confectionary or medicine for aristocrat during Nara period (710–794).

"so" sold at Nishii dairy farm (西井牧場) in Asuka village, Nara.

The origin of dairy cattle in Japan

The oldest born of cow was found in Gozaisyo city of Nara, and it is said that the origin of japanese cow was white cow brought from India through China or Korea in 5th century.
At that time, the capital was in Asuka, located in the south of Nara.

The milk was considered as medicine for aristocrat, but after Bhuddism was introduced, the emperor Tenmu banned to eat meat in 7th century.

After that, meat was taken only from wild animals like boar, deer and birds. Cow was mainly used for plowing fields.

In contrast to the diversity of cattle's name in English, it is only called "ushi (牛)" in Japanese, as ushi was not historically considered as foods in Japan.

From around 11th century, the power of samurai, or warrior class was getting flourished, and they made more importance on horse than cow.

Thus, livestock for plowing is different in the west and the east, the capital of shogunate government (military regime).
cattle was mainly found in the west and horse was used for plowing in the east.

Category of dairy products in ancient Japan

Let's date back to ancient time.

Dairy products was introduced in 5th century, and at the time, So (蘇) was even a kind of tax or tribute for imperial court, which was located in Nara at that time.

Category of dairy products are divided into three; raku, so and daigo.

Raku (酪) = yogurt
So (蘇) = cheese or butter
Daigo (醍醐) = soy milk or curd

The recipe of dairy products is written in the Engishiki (an ancient book about laws and customs).

raku is made from nyu, and so is made from raku, then daigo is considered to be the top of dairy products.

nyu (milk) => raku => so => daigo

Ancient cheese or butter was made from milk without using any additives including salt and coagulants.

The origin of dairy products is also closely linked with Buddhism.
In a Buddhist scripture called the Nirvana Sutra, daigo (醍醐) is written as the most precious dairy food, and the word "daigo" stands for the fifth of five tasts (gomi 五味).

I tried to make cheese from milk...

How to get so

Nishii dairy farm 西井牧場 in Nara revived ancient cheese in 1987.
Their recipe to make "so" was from ancient scripture and it is natural dairy product without using any additives.

Nishii Dairy Farm Shop

Nishii Dairy Farm

Address: 877 Minamiuracho, Kashihara, Nara Prefecture 634-0022
30 min. walk from Unebi goryomae (畝傍御陵前) station.
Web site: (only in Japanese)