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Raclette Hokkaido-Style

Sensational Japanese cheese born in picturesque Hokkaido: Tokachi’s artisan cheese will melt your heart
  • Japanese Cheese
  • Farm Experiences
  • Onsen (Hot Springs)

Molten magic: artisanal Tokachi raclette served over fresh local vegetables.

Tokachi - Hokkaido

The Tokachi district in the east of Hokkaido is one of the richest agricultural areas in Japan. The wide-open pastureland, clear mountain water, and moderate climate make this the perfect location for grazing cattle. The area now has a well-established dairy industry, and the availability of high-quality milk has given rise to artisan cheese-making.

One Tokachi product that has gained considerable attention is raclette cheese. Washed in the local spring water, the cheese develops a flavor that is mild at first, but with depth. Warmed, scraped, and served molten-soft over vegetables grown in the Tokachi terroir, it is a treat that should be tasted by anyone visiting Japan’s northernmost main island.

Artisan Cheese Born of the Tokachi Terroir

The expansive countryside of Tokachi is perfectly suited for raising cattle, especially dairy cows.

Arriving in Hokkaido, in the far north of Japan, you will find yourself in a place very different from any other part of the country—with its vast, open landscape; broad skies; and uninterrupted view of the far horizon. This is not territory that lends itself to rice-growing. Instead, the fertile soil here gives rise to a patchwork of fields of wheat, corn, potatoes, grapes, and other crops—as well as green pastures where cattle quietly graze.

The Tokachi plains just at the turn of Autumn.

The climate, too, is quite different from that of the Japanese heartland: milder and less humid in summer, colder and snowier in winter. Were it not for catching sight of the occasional volcanic peak, you would almost believe you were in Europe—a perception that becomes especially strong when you reach the Tokachi district.

Located in the east of Hokkaido, Tokachi is the largest farming region in the prefecture. It benefits from rich volcanic soil, pure water from the surrounding mountains, and long summer days, making it ideal not just for growing crops but also for raising dairy cattle. Their milk has a high fat content that is well suited for making cheese. More than half of the natural cheese made in Japan is produced in Tokachi, and many visitors come from other parts of Japan—and from even farther away—to enjoy this local specialty.

Except in the snowy winter months, the cattle are left to feed on the lush grass in Tokachi's pastures, enabling them to produce high-quality milk with a level of fat that is ideal for making cheese.

Cheese Imbued with Local Flavor: Moor Hot-Spring Water

Aged to perfection: as the wheels of raclette cheese mature, they are washed with a special liquid—local hot-spring water.

Of the various specialty cheeses produced in Tokachi, one in particular stands out. Tokachi Raclette Cheese Moor Wash is one of the few cheeses anywhere in the world that draw on the properties of hot-spring water to develop their distinctive character.

Raclette is a washed-rind cheese, which in Europe would be washed with brine (saltwater). In contrast, mineral-rich hot-spring water that wells up from the ground in this region is used by the producers of Tokachi raclette. Known as “moor water,” it contains traces of organic plant material from the layer of vegetation deep below the soil through which it filters.

During the maturation process, each cheese is given washes of this hot-spring water, lightly coating it with the essential microbes that ferment the lactic acid in the cheese. This process helps to draw out and concentrate the natural umami of the cheese.

It takes about three months before the cheese is ready to be removed from the maturation chamber. Even then, it requires special care to ensure that it tastes its best.

There are many restaurants and hotels in the area that serve local foods, including Tokachi’s premium natural cheese. But raclette requires extra attention as it’s served. One place where you can be confident that it will be prepared in the best possible way is at Garden Spa Tokachigawa Hot Spring.

Cheese, Vegetables, Wine: The Essence of Terroir

The molten cheese is poured over vegetables sourced from the nearby farms in Tokachi.

The name “raclette” comes from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape off,” which is a clue to the way this cheese tastes best. The whole cheese is first cut in half, and the exposed inner part is placed under a special heater until it begins to melt. This top layer of golden, molten goodness is then carefully poured over a serving of cooked potatoes and other vegetables.

A note of caution: as the cheese cools down, it starts to become firm again, so it’s important to eat the meal straightway—and not spend too much time photographing it.

For most people, though, that is rarely a problem. The aroma of the cheese and the expectation of the subtle mélange of flavors of the cheese on the local vegetables is likely to stimulate your appetite. Raclette makes an equally great match with pasta or bread. It also pairs perfectly with Tokachi wine, some of which has gained a strong following among international connoisseurs.

In the depth of the Hokkaido winter, these hot dishes will warm your spirit. And on a mild summer evening, they are even more enjoyable when you are eating alfresco and looking out on the beautiful countryside that produces this local cheese.

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