Cheese is a favourite at dining tables around the world, though nowhere as much as in Europe. Said to be one of the oldest foods to be made by humans, Japanese records show that cheese was made in Japan for then emperor Mommu as far back as October 700AD (November on the solar calendar). Cheese was (and still is) a highly prized food, believed to promote longevity and vitality. It was also a food with socio-economic implications and was eaten exclusively by aristocrats during the four hundred years spanning the Heian Period (794-1192).
These days, things have definitely changed with Japanese people now consuming an average of two kilograms of cheese per person. While this may pale in comparison to European countries, cheese in Japan is now very much a household item. In 1992, past history and modern popularity inspired the Japan Imported Cheese Promotion Association and the Japan Cheese Promotion Association to establish “Cheese Day” on November 11.
Cheese has certainly become a mainstay of the Tokyo diet, with cheesemongers in department store basements, or depachika, offering an ever-evolving and mouth-watering array of international and domestic cheeses.
In January 2009, a pair of two Japanese women claimed second place in The 3rd International Caseus Awards, an international cheesemonger’s competition held in Lyon, France. As this competition is the only of its kind, the win was a major coup for Japanese cheese culture.
To get a taste of Tokyo’s cheese-loving lifestyle, we’ve put together a list of Tokyo’s top cheese related restaurants and establishments, starting you off with cheese classes run by one member of Japan’s prize winning team. Just one last thing— don’t forget to pair that cheese with a nice glass of wine.
- Shinya Takasaki Wine Salon
- Miyuki Murase, one half of Japanese team which took second place in the international cheesemonger’s competition, is holding one day workshops which will teach participants cheese knowledge such as the marriage of cheese and wine, and how to correctly store cheese. This is the perfect course for those wanting to start out with the basics.
- Cheese for Beginners – Tips for Enjoying Cheese Course
- Date: Fri Dec 4, 7:30pm–8:30pm
Sun Jan 10, 3pm–4pm
Fri Jan 17, 5pm–6pm
Address: 3F Atago AS Building, 1-5-3 Atago, Minato-ku
Telephone: (0120)362 026
- Seibu Ikebukuro Honten Cheese Shop
Come here to see the other half of the second place winning Japanese team, Yuko Inoue, in action. At the International Caseus Awards, contestants are judged on eight different categories such as creating a cheese display, and cheese cutting and tasting. In addition to clinching the overall second-place spot, Inoue and Murase took first place for their display and cheese hygiene techniques. The Seibu Ikebukuro shop will give you a feel for what it takes to be recognised amongst the highest in world standards of cheese craftsmanship and knowledge.
- Address: 1-28-1 Nishi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
- Phone: (03)3981 0111
- Open: Mon-Sat 10am–9pm, Sun & nat. holidays 10am-8pm
- Website: www2.seibu.jp/usrinfo/
- Opened in 1986, this was the first store in Japan dedicated to imported natural cheeses. Fermier (French for “farm-made”) stocks artisanal cheeses; each week the shop receives over 200 different kinds of cheese from Paris and Milan. The Atago store also has a salon where customers can enjoy beverages and light meals such as an assorted cheese platter, wine by the glass and espresso coffee.
- Address: Atago AS Bldg, 1-5-3 Atago, Minato-ku
- Telephone: (03)5776 7720
- Open: Mon-Sat 11am-6:30pm, closed Sun and national, New Year, and summer holidays
- Website: shopping.fermier.fm/
- Sekai Cheese Shokai
- This wholesaler of world cheeses has a monthly clearance sale of cheeses that are nearing their used-by-date. The sale is so popular that people line up to ensure they don’t miss out. The next sale is on November 27 starting at 11:30am; die hard cheese fans usually begin to line up from around 10:30am. Get there early— most of the bargains are gone by mid-morning.
- Address: 2-4-11 Katsudoki, Chuo-ku
- Telephone: (03)3531 4236
- Open: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, closed Sat-Sun and nat. holidays
- Website: www.sekai-cheese.co.jp/
- Tokyo Swiss Inn
- This Swiss restaurant has made a name for itself with its dishes featuring cheese imported from Switzerland. The signature dish, raclette, is a traditional Swiss dish consisting of boiled potatoes topped with melted cheese. Large pieces of cheese are melted on a special raclette oven brought over from Switzerland and served to customers piping-hot.
- Address: B1 Azabudai Samari Mansion, 1-3-7 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku
- Telephone: (03)3588 8708
- Open: Mon-Sat 6pm-11pm, closed Sun
- Il Boccalone
- Il Boccalone has created its own method of making risotto: a huge chunk of cheese is cut from a gigantic wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then a hollow is scraped out so that the risotto rice can be added and mixed together with the cheese. This novel way of making risotto has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1989, and is becoming popular throughout Japan.
- Address: 1F Silk Ebisu, 1-15-9 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
- Telephone: (03)3449 1430
- Open: Mon-Sat 5:30pm-11pm, closed Sun
- Website: www.ilboccalone.com/jp/
- Ginza Candle
- Established in 1950, this long-running restaurant featuring western cuisine was frequented by famous writers such as Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata. One menu highlight: ‘1950’s Shrimp and Macaroni Gratin’ has been around since the restaurant opened and is made with a generous serving of specially selected Edam cheese. The gratin’s grilled cheese aroma is to-die-for.
- Address: B1 Ariga Shashin-kan Bldg, 7-3-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku
- Telephone: (03)3573 5091
- Open: Mon-Fri 11:30-11pm (LO 10pm), Sat 12noon-11pm (LO 10pm), Sun & nat. holidays 12noon-10pm (LO 9pm)
- Website: www.ginza-candle.com/ginza-candle/
- Marche Aux Vins Yamada
- Just like at a sushi restaurant, this French restaurant has counter seating in front of a display case allowing customers to see the cheeses on offer. Approximately 20 cheeses are on available and customers are recommended cheeses to compliment their food and wine.
- Address: 5-19-3 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku
- Telephone: (03)3441 9979
- Open: Mon-Sat 6pm-4am (LO 12midnight)
- Website: r.gnavi.co.jp/g148402/
- Signifiant Signifie
- Enjoy bread, cheese and wine at this boulangerie. In the ‘tasting space’, customers can enjoy an assortment of five cheeses which can be ordered as a set served with wine and bread, with second helpings of bread available.
- Address: 2-43-11 Shimoma, Setagaya-ku
- Telephone: (03)3422 0030
- Open: from 11am (days and times are variable, call ahead)
- Website: artandcraft.jp/ss/top.html
- Kushinobo Ginza
- At this restaurant customers can enjoy kuishage (deep-fried skewers of food) made with highly sought after cheese from Yoshida Farm in Okayama Prefecture. The atmosphere is distinctly Japanese. Hard cheeses are offered for 21 yen per gram; fresh cheeses such as mozzarella are subject to availability.
- Address: 1Fl West Bldg, 6-2-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku
- Telephone: (03)3571 3060
- Open: Mon-Sat 6pm-10:30pm (LO 9pm)
- Website: www.kushinobo.co.jp/
- Hokkaido Foodist
- As the name says, this shop is all about promoting food from Hokkaido. Stop in here for products such as Sasayuki camembert-style cheese made from the milk of Brown Swiss cows, or Yukimaru ‘rare cheese cake’.
- Address: 1F Daiya Yaesu-guchi Building, 2-2-1 Yaesu, Chuo-ku
- Telephone: (03)3275 0770
- Open: Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, closed Dec 31–Jan 1
- Website: www.foodist.co.jp/
- Dr Goods
- A specialist shop for cooking utensils, this cook’s emporium is located close to the entry of Tokyo’s ‘kitchen town’ of Kappabashi, near Asakusa. Head here for cheese knives, cheese slices and other specialty cheese gear.
- Address: 1-4-8 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku
- Telephone: (03)3847 9002
- Open: Mon-Fri 9:30am-5:30pm, Sat 9:30am-6pm, closed Sun, nat. holidays and every third Sat
- Website: www.dr-goods.com/realshop/
- Le Cordon Bleu Daikanyama
- This French cooking academy established its Daikanyama post in 1895. Cheese making classes here are fully supported by the Tokyo Professional Cheese Association. There are courses for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of cheese making, designed so that students can systematically learn all aspects of the art from farm to table. Those who complete all three levels will be eligible to receive an official Cordon Bleu Diploma in Cheese.
- Address: ROOB-1, 28-13 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku
- Telephone: (03)5489 0141, free dial (0120)454 840
- Website: www.cordonbleu.co.jp/index.cfm?fa=FrontEndMod.HomePage
Translated by E. Kavanagh