HOW TO: Find cheese in Japan

Most expats in Japan know how difficult it can be, at times, to find cheese (and I don't mean the Japanese types of cheese). Even when you do come across something like cheddar, it's often more expensive and smaller in size than a giant block you could easily buy in the U.S., for example, for the same price. (And I'm sure size and cost of cheese varies by country all over the world). Strangely enough, ever since I got pregnant, minus the three weeks of smoothies and saltines, I've been craving various American-type foods (which I don't normally crave very often). Lasagna and enchiladas especially. Ok, so those aren't inherently American, but who are we kidding, how much food can the U.S. claim as its own? Aside the altered versions of food from other backgrounds... the kind of food that means "comfort" to me - like my aforementioned lasagna).

Now, both of those meals require a decent amount of cheese, and specialized in the case of ricotta cheese for lasagna. I can easily find cheddar, bagged parmesan and similar cheese at my local supermarket, though the amount of cheddar is quite small and costs around 500-700 yen. One of the closest import stores actually carries cheddar (and various other cheeses you won't find at a local supermarket), and the cheddar blocks are twice as large and only cost around 400 yen (or more depending on the brand you get). Ricotta is impossible to find locally I've found (if different for you, please share below). One of two nearby import store carries ricotta, though for a hefty price at 900 yen (250 grams). Needless to say, lasagna will not be a frequent meal in our home (but it was worth it then).

Before we talk about how to find the cheese you want, let's go over some cheese terminology - that is, Japanese translations. Note: I did NOT include every possible type of cheese in this list. I'm not a cheese connoisseur by any means, but I figured these were more or less commonly eaten. And no worries, cheese names are typically written in katakana, so if you can make out the sounds, you can (usually) easily find the cheese you are looking for.

Colby Jack
Cream cheese
Emmental (Swiss cheese)
Monterey Jack
パルミジャーノ レッジャーノ

So, how do you find cheese, particularly specialty or gourmet cheese, in Japan?

Local Supermarket

Ok, this is an obvious one. Definitely check other supermarkets in your area if your closest one doesn't have much in the way of cheese besides cream cheese and green bottles of "parmesan"- another store nearby may have more selection. As I mentioned, our closest grocery store carries cheddar, camembert, brie, and some other specialty cheeses (though quantity is limited), but some others in the area don't. Bagged parmesan is easy to find at most any store, as is cream cheese. Mozzarella is common (also bagged), but I've found that kind to be different from the types of mozzarella I'm accustomed to (saltier) so I prefer to purchase it elsewhere. You can usually find shredded "pizza cheese," but to be honest I never find it to look very appetizing... I've seen some stores carry small bags of gouda cheese as well.

Order Cheese 

I discovered Order Cheese, an online cheese specialist store, a month or so ago while looking around for ricotta cheese (to indulge my intense pregnancy lasagna craving). They carry so many types of specialty cheese, and for decent prices, despite the fact that specialty cheeses are typically expensive. Certainly worth it once in a while if you want a certain kind for this or that. You can pay cash on delivery and they deliver all over Japan.

Import Stores

Probably another obvious one, but definitely check them out. One store you can find around Japan (though not in every prefecture), is Kaldi, which is a great little import store and coffee bean merchant. Kaldi also has online shopping via Rakuten and Yahoo. Seijo Ishii is another great import store, though I think its locations aren't as widespread. However they also have an online shop. Both of these places have a good selection of cheeses, though many other independent import stores do as well.

They carry a quite a few different kinds and have a pretty large selection to choose from... cheddar, parmesan, camembert, cream cheese, mozzarella, edam, brie, feta, etc.

Flying Pig

Buy Costco-sized cheese - various kinds including cheddar (red or white, sharp or medium), gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, colby jack, cottage cheese, and cream cheese.

Foreign Buyer's Club

Cheddar (red or white, sharp, medium or mild), colby jack, gouda, ricotta, maribo, emmental, edam, harvarti, mascarpone, to name only a few listed.

Tengu Natural Foods

One of my favorite natural foods stores to order things from (though I don't usually order cheese) - they carry cheddar, mozzarella, and cream cheese.

The Meat Guy

A few different types of cheese, similar to those mentioned above, plus some others.

I also found this article in the Japan Times about various places to find special cheeses: Recommendations from a Japanese cheese expert

Do you have any other suggestions for where to find cheese? (And aside making your own, of course). If so, feel free to share below!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't remember how milk is sold in Japan, but if you just buy a gallon of whole milk and have an acid of some sort (like vinegar or lime), you can easily make a farmers/paneer style of cheese on the stovetop. If you leave it crumbly instead of draining and squeezing in cheesecloth, it's perfect for lasagna! I also remember their incredible yogurts and wonder if incorporating some plain (or yes, cheesecake) yogurt into the cheese mixture would enhance the flavor and texture?

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