Many of you must know Kobe for its beef. Some might even be thinking about visiting the city just to have this famous beef. But what you might not know Kobe is also one of the best cities in Japan to sip great wine and savor high quality cheese.
The Cheese Impressed a World-known French Chef
Yuge Farm, a family owned, eco-friendly recirculating farm sits on Mt.Rokko in the outskirts of Kobe. Their 9 hectare land includes a pasture, barns, vegetable fields, a cheese factory, a restaurant, and even a biogas plant.
They have around 50 dairy cows running around the grassy pasture 24/7. To reduce stress on cattle, the family installed a robotic milker in 2006 so the cows can decide for themselves when they want to be milked so they could enjoy more time on the grass and we could enjoy tasteful healthy milk. (When I visited though, it was so hot that no cows wanted to leave the barn to pose for me.)
The milk is also used by the on-site cheese factory. Their cheese is regularly used at the Michelin-rated restaurants and high end hotels in Kansai and one of their loyal fans is France’s best-known superchef, Alain Ducasse.
When the current owner Tadao Yuge took over his father’s farming business in 1983, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. The owner then decided to start producing their own cheese to get more from their milk and to provide affluent gourmets in Kobe with a new local taste. After a long process of trial and error, he managed to start selling fromage frais (fresh cheese) along with camembert cheese and he has never stopped coming up with new ideas since.
Fromage frais, unripened cheese after lactic fermentation has no salt in it and has fewer calories than normal cheese. At their restaurant “Cheese House Yargoi”, they introduce new ways to enjoy dairy products such as cheese and whey with their fusion dishes to diners.
The first thing I tried there was fromage frais and herb dip on top of toasted baguette slices — the Italian parsley and chives in the dip and the mint leaves on a plate were all grown onsite. The recipe is so simple and yet it has the best combination of freshness.
Another iconic dish at Yargoi is fresh cheese served in a fancy hiyayakko (chilled tofu) style, which means the fromage frais comes with a shiso leaf, sliced onion, and bonito flakes then finished with sudachi citrus and a few drops of soy sauce.
For those who prefer the rich taste of soft-ripened cheese, “fromage petit taro” developed in 2009 by the owner’s eldest son, Taro Yuge would be a blissful treat. What’s special about this cheese is that its taste will change as it ripens in your refrigerator so you will experience a wide range flavors as you eat it over time until it finally becomes a creamy, spicy cheese similar to goat cheese. After tasting the unique and perfect combination of fromage petit taro and the peppery taste of rocket leaves, I was convinced that their claim that it will make you drink an entire bottle of wine is true.
Visit the Vineyards and Taste the Local Wine
Now, let’s move on to the quest to find good local wine!
A 40-minute drive west from Yuge Farm will take you to Kobe Winery.
They grow varieties of wine grapes including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and riesling to make wine under the brand name of Kobe Wine. Wine making in the west part of Japan is not so common especially in Hyogo prefecture where they are the only registered winery according to the Japan Wineries Association. If you are looking for local wine to go with your local cheese, Kobe beef, or great seafood from Seto Inland Sea, the winery is a must-go spot.
They’ve been vinifying grapes harvested on-site and at contracted farmers’ vineyards in the city for 35 years and now they ship 280,000 bottles of wine annually. At the winery, not only can you attend a guided tour of the vineyards and bottling lines but also you can taste wine, purchase wine, eat at their restaurant, or rent BBQ equipment to enjoy a lovely day with your family under the sun. You don’t need to worry about kids getting bored either because they can ride bumper boats and go karts there.
My favorite Kobe Wine is a white wine called, Benediction Blanc which is specially made from the best chardonnay grapes picked each year. Its crispness and freshness pairs perfectly with summer. The 2016 vintage won gold at the Japan Wine Challenge the following year.
Another wine I’d strongly recommend, especially to those of you who enjoy sweeter wines is Kobe Inji’s Shinano Riesling. Shinano riesling is a Japan original crossbreed of chardonnay and riesling. Here in Kobe, Inji Growers Association of Hirano grow fantastic shinano riesling, which is used to make this aromatic wine. It goes well with nabe (hot pot dishes) and it goes well with beef. But I personally like it paired with cookies or cheese for a perfect dessert.
I asked Kobe Winery’s Tanaka-san for a recommended cheese to go with this wine and he told me the foundation managing the Kobe Winery also produces a natural cheese called Kobe Cheese at Rokkosan Pasture. They make both wine and cheese in Kobe, which is impressive.
Guest Ranch Producing Creamy Camembert
This is where Kobe Cheese, a camembert cheese, is made. It’s actually a popular ranch for visitors to pet sheep, feed calves, and experience horseback riding, but they also have dairy cows for milk, cheese, and yogurt production. Cows are kept in freestall barns and walk around the corral during the day. This system supports high levels of milk production by keeping cattle healthy and comfortable.
Several times a month, on a cheese production day, a tank full of fresh milk is sent to their on-site cheese factory, pasteurized, and cooled to the right temperature. Then they add mold to it, along with the lactic acid bacteria, and rennet to turn the milk into a solid and maximize the tastiness at the same time. Rested in a cheese vat for a while, it is converted into curds and whey. Then the curds are cut into cubes, put into cheese molds, pressed, and drained overnight. Once cut and shaped, it is dry-salted and aged. After 3 weeks, voila! Kobe Cheese is born.
Place it in the warmest part of the refrigerator, and it will continue to ripen and develop distinctive flavors over the time. Simply have a slice with wine, put a slice on crackers, make a sandwich with it, or heat it on grilled vegetables and you will love it.
They also make ricotta out of whey, a byproduct of cheese making at Rokkosan Pasture. Just eating it like yogurt is great, but a good sprinkle of rock salt, black pepper, and high quality olive oil, such as Ao no Dia from Kagawa will make it an excellent appetizer.
Port City’s Great Selection of International Wine and Cheese
And last but not least, you have to go and visit a restaurant or a wine bar in the Sannomiya area to enjoy a great selection of imported wine and cheese pairings to wrap up the ultimate food trip.
Enzo Pizzeria Ristorante Kobe is what you could describe as little Southern Italy in Kobe, where you can enjoy everything Italian.
Born in Puglia, its chef Enzo Dileo has been making pizza for 30 years all over the world including Denmark and Australia. Now he cooks fantastic traditional and fusion dishes trying to educate Kobekko (Kobe people) about regional food and wine of Phulia. “Italian food is not just spaghetti carbonara or pizza margherita. We want people to trust us, step out of their comfort zone just a little bit, and try something new because so much delicious food is available here!” the chef says.
Here’s some of the deliciousness Enzo offers.
Top left is an antipasto misto platter with prosciutto ham, pancetta, salami, various types of cheese including gorgonzola, his house made burrata cheese – “No no no, I really can’t reveal the recipe. It’s really a secret!” – tomatoes, smoked ham rolls with mascarpone inside, grilled asparagus and scallions, marinated porcini and artichoke, and marinated salmon with a drop of gin.
The wine he picked to pair with the dishes was Cosimo Taurino 7°Ceppo, made 100% from primitivo, a variety of dark-skinned wine grape grown across Puglia. Its fragrance is so deep and diverse that if you smell this wine, you know it’s going to taste amazing!
Shown in the bottom left is Enzo’s salad pizza with his original fermented dough, rucola, cherry tomatoes, burrata, and slices of parmesan on top. The crispy dough is so light that you can’t stop eating this pizza, and it matches splendidly with the fruity red wine.
If you’re still hungry, you should definitely have the conchiglioni (big shell pasta) with creamy four cheese sauce and roasted pistachio. Everything he offers is ridiculously delicious so just sit back, relax, and talk to the friendly wine & cheese connoisseur. You’ll be guaranteed to have a fun and memorable night in Kobe.
At his restaurant, Enzo occasionally hosts Wine Way, a wine tasting party where you can try 30 Italian wine including the ones from Puglia.
As Yuge-san from the farm put it, Kobe has a lot of consumers who don’t hesitate to try and accept new foods and cultures. But I think what makes Kobekko that way is actually the strong passion of suppliers who keep trying hard to show us what is good.
※To prevent foot-and-mouth disease on cattle, Rokkosan Pasture do not allow people who entered Japan from overseas within the past week. Visitors cannot bring any clothes or shoes that have been worn overseas within the past 4 months. Kobe Cheese is also available at souvenir shops at Rokko Garden Terrace, Kobe Winery, and Kobe Airport etc.
Yuge Farm（Cheese House Yargoi）
Adress／Nishimaruyama 5-2 , Yamadacho Shimotanigami, Kita-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Tel／078-581-3220 (9:00 ～18:00)
Hours／11:00～17:00 (L.O 16:30)
Closed／Wednesdays（Tuesdays and Wednesdays in January and February）
Nearest Station／Hokushin Kyuko Railway or Kobe Railway Tanigami Station
Kobe Winery（Agricultural Park）
Address／1557-1 Oshibedanicho Takawa, Nishi-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Closed／Year-end and new year holidays and during the facility inspection period in February
Nearest Station／Kobe Municipal Subway Seishin-Chuo Station
Kobe Municipal Rokkosan Pasture
Adress／Nakaichiriyama 1-1, Rokkosan-cho, Nada-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Admission／15 years old and older: 500 Yen, Student (Elementary school and middle school): 200 Yen
Hours／9:00～17:00（Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing) though it opens till 17:30 on weekends from April to October, during golden week holidays, and bon holidays
Closed／Tuesdays in winter time (November to March) However, it will be open if it’s a public holiday and it will be closed the following day. December 29th – January 3rd, Facility inspection period in January
Parking／500 Yen for cars
Nearest Bus Stop／Rokko-Maya Sky Shuttle Bus “Rokkosan Bokujo”
Enzo Pizzeria Ristorante Kobe
Address／2-21-3 Nakayamatedori,Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Hours／【Dinner】17:30～22:00 【Bar】17:30～24:00（Open till 2 AM on Fridays and Saturdays）
Parking／Use nearby coin parking lots
Nearest Stations／Hankyu Kobe Sannnomiya, Hanshin Kobe Sannomiya, Kobe Municipal Subway Sannomiya or JR Sannomiya Station
Photographs & Text by Madoka Hori
Yuge Farm（Cheese House Yargoi）
Kobe Winery（Agricultural Park）
Kobe Municipal Rokkosan Pasture
Enzo Pizzeria Ristorante Kobe
Madoka Hori / Photo-writer Entrepreneurial translator/writer living in Hyogo. As a licensed English tour guide, she occasionally takes tourists to beautiful destinations such as Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kyoto, and Osaka and her clients have never got lost so far. On Setouchi Finder, as one of the original team members, she enjoys taking photos and sharing her favorite hidden gems. Private Photo Blog http://riderv328.tumblr.com Twitter https://twitter.com/Riderv328
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