In Japan, a dairy product known as “so” has been made since the middle of the 7th century by simmering milk until the water content evaporates and a hard substance remains. This represented the precursor to Japanese cheese.
In modern times, Edwin Dun, who is credited as being the father of Hokkaido’s dairy industry, made condensed milk and cheese at the Agricultural Experiment Station located in Hokkaido’s Nanae Town in 1876. He later opened a ranch in Sapporo where production of authentic cheese is said to have begun.
Cheese became a familiar part of Japan’s gastronomical culture after the 1950s. The trends of each time period, which included pizza, cheese cake, and tiramisu, among others, helped to raise interest in the fact that there are many types of cheese. Since the wine boom at the end of the 1990s, Japanese people have begun enjoying the tastes and aromas of different cheeses on a standalone basis, which has led to the creation of highly unique cheese crafters across Japan.
Cheese is made in small and large facilities dotted across Hokkaido mainly in the Tokachi and Eastern Hokkaido regions where dairy is a major industry.
■Map / Main producing municipalities
Shintoku Town, Nakasatsunai Village, Sarabetsu Village, Betsukai Town, Shiranuka Town, Okoppe Town, Ozora Town, Kuromatsunai Town, Niseko Town, Yakumo Town
Hokkaido earned the moniker Cheese Kingdom because of the ease in obtaining high quality and fresh raw milk locally, the key ingredient in cheese production. The products of major milk companies bear the name Hokkaido or Tokachi, where cheese production is particularly prominent in the prefecture, which has raised the visibility of these areas among Japanese consumers. In addition, Hokkaido is located at almost the same latitude as Europe, the home of cheese. The cool climate is ideal for cows, which dislike high temperatures and high humidity, and hence ideal for producing milk on high quality free range farms. Hokkaido is home to a large number of small scale cheese producers that make a truly wide range of cheeses.
Cheese is made throughout the year in Hokkaido. The taste of milk differs with each season, which makes it possible to create a variety of cheeses based on differences in production process and aging method. Visitors are encouraged to taste local cheeses that are considered to taste delicious during the particular season of there visit.