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What’s in your cheese? A foreigner’s guide to buying cheese in Japan

Not everyone in Japan can read katakana or Chinese characters. Even if you do, there is still a very low possibility that you teacher at Japanese language classes will teach you how to read the food labels at the supermarket. So what’s a foreigner to do when he wants to buy some good cheese? Let’s break down some basic names and components.

There is no kanji for cheese in Japanese, because dairy is not a part of traditional diet in Japan. Drinking a glass of fresh pasteurized milk became common for Japanese schoolchildren in the 1950s-60s. Although cheese was introduced in Meiji Era, it was mostly processed (プロセスチーズ).CheeseReal cheese gained popularity in late ’60s and ’70s. There are still some Japanese who don’t like eating cheese, but it is more a question of personal preference rather than a question of age. For example, my mother-in-law often enjoys cheeses as a dessert, but my husband is lactose intolerant. However, I suppose that there are less lactose intolerant people in Japan than centuries ago.

If you want to buy good, wholesome cheese, look for ナチュラルチーズ (natural cheese) with as little ingredients as possible. The best case is a list which includes only milk (牛乳) and salt (食塩).Cheeseモッツァレラチーズ, or Mozzarella cheese is on the safe side. It is a (relatively) fresh cheese (フレッシュチーズ) and has lower salt content (低塩).

Sometimes, even if it is ナチュラルチーズ, there can be other ingredients like セルロ―ス – cellulose from wood pulp or other plant fibers. Cellulose prevents shredded cheese from clumping.Cheeseとろけるチーズ (“torokeru – for melting”), or a shredded cheese – contains cellulose. There is no medical data that it is bad for our health, but I try to buy it only if I really need to.

Other ingredients that can be found in cheeses:Cheeseクリーム – cream, often found in クリームチーズ (cream cheese)

乳化剤(にゅうかざい) – emulsifier

安定剤 (タラガム) – tara gum, also know as Peruvian Carob

保存料 (ソルビン酸K) – potassium sorbate

着色料 (カロテノイド) – carotenoid (organic pigment)CheeseSeveral kinds of processed cheese you can find:

ストリングチーズ – string cheese

スライスチーズ – sliced cheese

スモークチーズ – smoked cheeseCheese

Article by Olga Kaneda

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