On October 27, a crew from OPEN headed up into the mountains for a series of farm and producer visits. Tal experienced his first highway rest stop breakfast: udon.
At a produce market, we met up with chef Norihiko Fujiki and his staff. Fujiki had put together a packed itinerary to showcase Nagano prefecture specialties. Newspaper reporters and a local television crew were there to meet us. It was explained that this particular market allowed farmers to sell fruits and vegetables that weren’t perfectly formed enough for the big supermarkets. To our eyes, the produce here did look perfect.
Our next stop was a mountain potato farm. The farmer, Eiko Ouike, demonstrated the new machine they are using to dig up the roots. He is conducting an experiment into organic processes. So far, his new methods yield mountain potatoes that are a bit smaller, but with a viscous texture, a prized quality for these slimy vegetables.
A stop for lunch in a quaint mountain restaurant, Douhira, followed.
Fujiki grated one of the mountain potatoes from Ouike’s farm, and served each of us a small bowl of the thick, white stuff to mix with the broth for the soba.
We had new soba, made with the season’s fresh buckwheat crop. New soba is made with 100% buckwheat, which creates a stronger-tasting, textured noodle. With less gluten, these noodles are generally shorter. We watched the proprietor of the soba shop as she drained the noodles for our lunch and decorated each portion with autumn leaves.
Jonathan Waters enjoyed his first restaurant meal in Japan.
To keep on schedule, we rushed off to Chiyoko Komura’s herb farm. Chiyoko-san greeted us warmly, and showed us around her impeccable farm. Chris commented that all the herbs were delicious, and ordered a wide selection for the wine dinner planned for several days later at HOUSE.
It was a dazzling autumn day. We walked down the road to see the new buckwheat drying in a field.
A quick stop followed to see some terraced rice fields.
And then we stopped again at an apple farm. The apples were the biggest we had ever seen.
As time was getting short, we split into two groups. I opted to visit a mushroom farm.
After getting an official welcome from the mushroom company owner and the mayor of the town, the owner’s son who runs the farm showed us around. The “farm” is a series of humidity- and temperature-controlled rooms, each calibrated for a particular mushroom variety.
I was very inspired by the misty, dim, atmospheric rooms.
The other group visited the Moshida-en chestnut farm instead. Apparently, this farm has been in the family in that location for 400 years. The proprietor, Toshiko Moshida, served up a selection of chestnut preparations: fried, boiled, and mashed. The chestnuts were sweet and delicious. Kayoko took photos:
The final tour of the night was at Obuse Winery. The young winemaker showed us the barrels of grapes fermenting in their skins. He uses natural yeasts. We enjoyed sips of several of his wines in the tasting room before heading off in the van for a snack and a bed at Fujiki’s restaurant and hotel, Espoir De Maison.
Photo by Kayoko Akabori