Miso Master Miso ~ Our Miso Heritage
In the spring of 1978, a group of macrobiotic supporters approached Michio and Aveline Kushi with the idea of forming a new company to produce miso in the United States using traditional methods and only the finest organic ingredients. The Kushi's entreated Ariyoshi Kazama, founder of Mitoku Trading Company, a major supplier of Japanese natural food, to find someone to train our would-be miso makers in the rapidly fading art of traditional miso manufacture. In a selfless spirit of international cooperation, Mr. Kazama searched for someone who still made miso the old-fashioned way, yet was open-minded enough to invite strangers into his home. After many false starts, Mr. Kazama finally located, in the mountains north of Tokyo, Mr. Takamichi Onozaki, one of the remaining handful of country miso makers of the old school.
Our Miso Master Heritage
Mr. Onozaki generously opened his home to gaijin (foreign) seekers after knowledge from half a world away, and agreed to house and train an American couple, John and Jan bellmen, for an entire miso-making season. From November 1979, until June, 1980, Mr. Onozaki taught his students all the miso lore he had accumulated from a lifetime of miso making in his small, rural miso factory.
Upon the Belleme's return to America we rapidly constructed our factory building near Rutherfordton, NC, about fifty miles east of Asheville, and arranged to ship our new equipment from Japan. By late 1980 we had begun to make our first experimental batches of rice miso.
Although our miso was sold only in bulk for its first two seasons, our familiar one-pound and eight-ounce tubs with the Miso Master logo soon arrived on the scene and sales slowly but steadily grew. Starting with eight barrels, we steadily added more vats until we now have a total of 47 of these leviathans, each holding over four tons of two-year miso. All of our vats have been crafted out of recycled wood by the Arrow Tank Company of Rochester, NY, the only remaining traditional hand-crafted barrel maker in the US. In order to house our expanding activities, we built a second factory building as big as the first in 1993.
In the fall of 1981, Mr. Onozaki came to Rutherfordton on an inspection trip to see exactly how well his students had learned their lessons. He had never left Japan before in his life. He stayed and worked in the factory alongside our own crew for weeks, patiently reviewing our practices and refining our procedures until the pronounced himself fully satisfied.
For centuries Japanese craftsmen have used natural fermentation to transform soybeans and grains into many types of miso, the rich, thick paste used for flavoring a wide variety of dishes.
Miso is a unique and vital food which, like yogurt, contains lactic acid bacteria and enzymes which aid digestion and food assimilation. Although methods used in making miso differ depending on the type of miso being made and the level of technology employed, the basic process dates back to pre-industrial Japan. Cooked soybeans, barley or rice koi, and sea salt are mixed together and then aged in wooden vats. This traditional method results in superior quality miso. Fresh and unpasteurized, it has subtle, balanced flavors that only great care, high quality ingredients, and natural aging can produce.
Though now almost extinct in Japan, these ancient practices have been inconstant use for more than 30 years at the American Miso Company, the largest traditional miso works in the world.
At first the American Miso Company produced only Miso Master Organic Traditional Red (Aka) Miso the only type of miso made by Mr. Onozaki. But soon the Bellemes developed a recipe and technique for making Country Barley (Mugi) Miso, eventually paying back part of out debt to Mr. Onozaki by teaching him how to make barley miso of his own in Japan.