This trip is such a whirlwind of information and eating that I'm surprised my brain hasn't short-circuited from all the ingredients I'm learning about and that my stomach hasn't short-circuited because of all the never-before-consumed foods I'm putting into it.
Yesterday we visited a miso-production factory and a Sendai beef farm. The miso is the same red miso that's produced for the label Eden Organics, and the moment our bus pulled into the parking lot an hour outside of Sendai city, the warm comforting smell of miso pulled us in.
We were given a presentation on miso's origins (made in this spot under a feudal lord for centuries, then 400 years ago was 'liberated' to the public) and on how it's made (soybeans are cooked and koji mold and salt are added, then the starter ferments for different lengths of time: white miso is the mildest and ferments only a few months, while at the other end of the spectrum black miso has an incredibly extracted taste after 2.5 years of fermentation).
Interestingly, Japan can't grow enough soybeans for its miso production, so imports soybeans from the USA and uses them to make miso (in combination with soybeans grown in Japan). We tasted two different kinds of miso soup: one was made with American soybeans and had been prepared for us with spinach and bacon (!!) and the second was a traditional miso soup with seaweed and tofu, made with milder Japanese soybeans.
Everyone scrubbed up (white suits and white hairnets) and trouped onto a catwalk to peer through the windows onto the floor below, where we unfortunately weren't allowed.
The factory was almost reminiscent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, complete with 24-hour-a-day automated machines to monitor the bean paste's fermentation and beeping machines belching out strange brown pastes.
One of the best things about traveling with a group of talented chefs (and there are many) is that every conversation turns into a think tank. Listening to them talk about different ways they'd use miso was fascinating--making a meat jus with miso and red wine or swapping out the anchovy in a puntarelle salad with miso were just a few things that probably wouldn't occur to us ordinary mortals.