Ichio Chigira, the owner of the Oze Tofu factory in Katashina, tells his story about how tofu changed his life.
Nineteen years ago Ichio-san made a life-changing decision. He gave up his family’s milk farm and put all his time and energy into starting a tofu factory – ‘Oze Tofu’. This was successful, as now he is busy planning the 20th anniversary of Oze Tofu in 2015. Tofu, also known as soy bean curd, has changed Ichio-san’s life – he finally found what makes him happy. It is important to have that passion in the tofu business. Ichio-san says that the only thing he dislikes about being a tofu farmer is starting work at midnight or 2am (depending on the orders). So to be able to catch him and ask him a few questions we arrived at his factory at 5am in the morning. As we observed Ichio-san in his small but busy factory, it was clearly visible that he was in his element. There are steaming machines and various water tanks with constant water running, and in this entire jumble there is Ichio-san moving around happily from one place to the next, pushing around big buckets on wheels.
The first thing he did was to serve us some of his VERY fresh tofu in his office. He had just cut the tofu in the water basin and placed the warm block of tofu onto our plates. I have never eaten so much tofu and such fresh tofu in my life and never at 5am in the morning! Overall, Ichio-san made us taste all of his 4 different types of tofu. As he kept popping next door into his tofu kitchen, he explained his method and his life story.
Katashina grows the Ojiro soybeans, apparently these have a sweeter taste than other soybeans. Ichio-san also grows his own soybeans. Currently there are 2 Austrian ‘wwoofers’ working on his fields for a month (wwoof is a worldwide organization that links volunteers with organic farmers). However, he does not produce enough soybeans, so along with the Ojiro he adds soybeans from Hokaido.
Ichio-san produces fresh soy-milk out of the beans – which we also got to taste, still warm – wow! However, to make tofu he curdles the soy-milk together with Magnesium Chloride. As a result, the proteins in the milk clot together, these clots are then pressed into a large slice-able cake.
What makes his products even more unique is his constant use of special metals that radiate special energy into his tofu. Even though some of his workers may disagree, Ichio-san believes that this refines the taste and makes his products last longer.
Out of tofu mixture he the produces his heavenly zaru, nama and momen tofu.
He also has a special room where he makes yuba. Yuba is tofu skin, made by boiling soy milk and then removing the skin that forms on the liquid surface. He rolls this layer and cuts it into pieces resulting in yuba sashimi. Yuba is especially popular in Kyoto and Nikko – also very good.
As you are reading this you are probably wondering where you can try this deliciousness. Some local restaurants and pensions in Katashina serve his products. I, for example, ate his Nama Tofu at Hanasaku no yu for the first time. However, he also sends packages of his products throughout Japan. Yet, best is to visit his shop, right next to his factory, where he sells all of his products. Nevertheless, if you are too early, you can always pop into his kitchen and ask to buy some of his fresh products. Ichio-san will surely welcome you into his steaming factory and always enjoys sharing the story of his life-changing tofu. He is convinced of his product and sees great potential in Katashina – he dreams of spreading his passion by maybe one day establishing a tofu village…
Oze Tofu is definitely worth a visit; very delicious, interesting & inspiring – life-changing!
Katashina has so much to discover, come and explore for yourself! Katashina FUNtashina
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