Food & Drink

Italian molds new career selling Hokkaido cheese

by Sayaka Watanabe

Kyodo

A 40-year-old Italian who has lived in Japan for nearly a decade discovered a new career this summer at a cheese company in Hokkaido.

Gianluca Sarais, from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, currently works as a sales representative for Rakukeisya cheese products in the town of Shiranuka, near Kushiro in east Hokkaido.

“Rakukeisya’s cheese tasted like the cheese I used to eat in Italy with a rich milk flavor,” Sarais said recalling the first time he tried it.

In June, Sarais joined the company, which produces about 20 different Italian-style cheese products, including ricotta, using fresh milk acquired from dairy farms around Shiranuka town.

“We hope that he will integrate Italian culture into our workshop,” said Rakukeisya President Kazuyoshi Inokuchi, 51.

Right now, Sarais is juggling a busy schedule of learning to make cheese while also working as a salesman at the company.

“My dream is to one day sell cheese that I produce myself,” he said.

At Rakukeisya, he wakes up early in the morning and starts packing cheese around 7 a.m. Once shipping work is complete, he goes out for sales and marketing.

Sarais even works on weekends, sometimes phoning restaurants that use Rakuseisya’s cheeses.

“I enjoy talking with chefs and am always excited to find out what kind of food will be served at their restaurants,” he said.

Sarais first became fascinated with Japan in elementary school, where he read “The Tale of Genji,” a classic Japanese novel dating from the 11th century. He went on to major in Japanese history and literature at university.

He came to Japan in 2007 and entered a company based in Yokohama that imported Italian food products.

But bustling city life left him feeling stressed, so he pulled up stakes and moved to Hokkaido, where his Japanese wife grew up, after the couple had a baby.

“With its nearby beaches and mountains, Shiranuka is quite similar to my hometown,” Sarais said.

And while Sardinia is famed for producing goat cheese, Sarais wouldn’t know its quality.

“I never had it when I was a kid because I was picky about food,” he said with a smile.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
Coronavirus banner