The cheese of the month for December 2020 is: Takesumi from Chiyo Shibata, Fromagerie Sen in Ōtaki/Japan

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No, I did not travel to Japan. But I couldn’t have come up with a better choice for the last month of this unusual, crazy year than this small round fellow made from cow’s milk by Chiyo Shibata in Ōtaki, one hour’s drive southeast of Tokio. Because it is proof of how beautifully the Heinzelcheese network is working, in spite of all adversities! Remember: it was here that you first read about Northern Irish Mike Thomson’s Young Buck, in May 2015, because a friend had brought it back with him, straight from the brand new creamery near Belfast. Today it’s on offer at Alte Milch in Berlin. I am not so sure if Takesumi will ever make it to a Berlin cheese counter – but who knows?

It was brought to me by Tomoko Akashi, who runs Umami Japan with her husband Walter, after they had told me about a Japanese cheesemaker (thank you!!!!) who was working with foraged Japanese cultures in an old remote farmhouse. All very exceptional and exciting, and at some point in the future, we’ll dive a bit deeper into Chiyo Shibata’s universe (meanwhile have a look here). She says she wants to make cheese with the taste of Japan. She also says: “I believe that cheese is a tool that connects all of us. I don’t plan on spending my entire career as a cheesemaker. Microbes are very good at coexisting with others… they join hands to coexist, and I want to do the same in the human world. I want to share what the microbes taught me. I’m so happy: cheese, the nostalgic future.” Wow.

What Takesumi tastes like, you’re wondering? It is made quite similarly to a crottin, with bamboo ash – and obviously, what you’re seeing on these pictures is not how the cheesemaker intended it to look! Because, after all, it travelled all the way from Tokio to Berlin in its little plastic palace dome, and then I gave it four weeks to recover from that climate shock in my fridge and get friendly with the new environment and its microbes. So in a way what you’re seeing is a Heinzelcheese Takesumi. And that, last night, discreetly smelled of yellow lemons, its texture rather more dense than a crottin though equally melting. Fresh scallions fleetingly said hello aromawise, a shoal of very small fishes glittered from afar, all carried by that wonderfully quiet acidity, still reminiscent of lemons – just like a cow, after all, exudes more calm than a goat, without being less lively.

Chiyo Shibata recommends pairing Takesumi with sake (and I’ll take her up on that tonight), while I greatly enjoyed the 2019 Riesling La Roche from Katja and Jens Baeder with it last night. Another joining of hands and coexisting. Wherever you happen to be and even if there aren’t that many actual hands right now to join: we’re still in this together, and we’ll manage together. Always. Thank you for being around.

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