They say good things come in small packages. This is why the tiny shop on an unassuming street in Nanjo is such a marvel, because it’s home to the most incredible flavours of handmade cheese available on island. They have names like Nanjozola. Shima Rakkyo. Blue Caraway. Fire Cheese. Chura Porcini. The list goes on and on – you could try a different cheese every day of the month and still not try them all.
But, let me not get ahead of myself. I was lucky enough to sit with John Davis, the man who is “The Cheese Guy” and not only ask him a lot of questions, but also try a LOT of cheese. This is what he had to tell me while I was busy pretending to jot down notes.
I never get tired of cheese. I make cheese every day! I started making cheese because it was hard to find good quality cheese in Japan. The mass produced stuff that is available in the supermarket has no life – it’s been homogenized and pumped full of preservatives. I wanted to make cheese with fresh, full cream milk.
After living in Hokkaido for 15 years, I came to Okinawa to retire. You’d think that Hokkaido is the perfect place to make cheese, as it produces so much milk, but it is actually too cold and too dry. Cheese loves warm, humid places, so Okinawa is wonderful.
It was a lucky accident that after making cheese at home with supermarket milk, I was introduced to a farmer in Nanjo who had the cows, but not the cheese making abilities. So we became partners. The shop is really close to the farm. This is as fresh as it gets.
A lot of these cheeses have come about by trial and error. I make cheese every day and try new ideas. It’s a long process that requires a lot of patience. Certain steps in the process take hours of waiting. Some cheeses require months to mature. And you don’t even know if it will taste good when it’s matured.
Yes, we’ve had a few fails in terms of new flavours. The worst was my attempt to combine a type of seaweed with camembert. Rather than give you the gory details, lets just say that it didn’t work. I threw it out. I learned something though. As far as cheese is concerned it’s probably best not to mix things from the land with things from the sea.
The cheese market in Okinawa is relatively new. Sometimes customers bring back a piece of cheese and point out a piece of mold on it, not knowing that it is part of the aging process and edible. “It’s all part of the service. There is no extra charge!” I like to joke with them. Although I get a lot of foreign customers coming from up island, there are also a lot of locals who want to try handmade natural cheese.
I also make yogurts. (At this point he pulls out a container of yogurt, and turns it upside down. None falls out.) Now that is a proper yogurt. That’s what we used to eat when I was a kid – before supermarkets started!
If someone wanted to try making cheese at home, yes they can use milk from the supermarket. I’d like to add that I’m very willing to help would-be cheese makers. I cannot supply them with milk, but they can get cheese cultures and rennet from me. The world needs more cheese makers.
Mon – Sun : 13:00 to 18:00
The Cheese Guy
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The Cheese Guy
Nakama-1155 Ōzato, Nanjō-shi, Okinawa-ken 901-1400, Japan