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Recommendations from a Japanese cheese expert

by Winifred Bird

Keiko Kubota selected and prepared the cheeses served at the 2008 G8 summit in Hokkaido. A cheese sommelier and the manager of Restaurant Gentil in Shizuoka City, Kubota has written two books on how to become a cheese sommelier and is on the board of the Cheese Professional Association of Japan. Here she shares her recommendations of great Japanese cheeses:

When money is no object

* Caseificio’s Mozzarella di buffala is a fresh mozzarella made from the milk of water buffaloes raised in Miyazaki Prefecture. www.caseificio.jp; (0983) 21-2617; ¥2,000/200 grams

Kubota says: “Milky and creamy — it’s wonderful to be able to eat mozzarella this good from Japan.”

* Mori no Chizu is a pungent washed-rind cheese from Nagano’s Kiyomizu Bokujo. www.avis.ne.jp/~svarasa/; (0263) 79-2800; ¥1,900/250 grams

Kubota says: “One of the few Japanese cheeses that pairs well with a strong red wine. This farm truly values the health of the animals and the rhythms of nature.”

Mid-range cheeses

* Kyodogakusha Shintoku Farm’s prize-winning Sakura is a soft cherry-scented cheese from Hokkaido (Only available Jan.-May; sold out for 2009). www.kyodogakusha.org; (0156) 69-5600; ¥700/90 grams Kubota says: “I served this cheese at the G8 Summit. The high quality of the milk makes the cheese’s delicate flavor possible.”

* Caciocavallo is a purse-shaped cheese similar to Provolone that has recently enjoyed wild popularity in Japan. Kubota recommends Bocca brand’s Caciocavallo. www.bocca.co.jp; (0142) 21-1788; ¥800/200 grams Kubota says: “Good sliced thin and served as is or lightly grilled.”

Budget options

* Houjun Gouda by Snow Brand’s Hokkaido 100 line. Available at supermarkets; ¥220/50 grams

Kubota says: “The flavor is well balanced, and it’s mild and easy to cook with.”

* For a good organic string cheese, try Oratche Rakuno Okoku’s Sakeru Chizu from Shizuoka Prefecture. www.oratche.com; (055) 974-4192

Kubota says: “This milky cheese is a perfect kid’s snack or an accompaniment for drinks.”