Located in the southern part of Kyushu, Kagoshima had long been blessed with a rich food culture, thanks to its surrounding sea and mountains and temperate climate. Most notably, pig farming and shochu (Japanese distilled beverage) production developed as Kagoshima’s core industries and supported the local economy, the former making use of Kagoshima’s vast land, and the latter using sweet potatoes, of which Kagoshima is the leading producer in Japan.
A groundbreaking partnership between pig farming and shochu production, both Kagoshima’s signature industries, is garnering attention lately.
Kagoshima’s famous saké and the brewer’s concern
Isa is a city on the border of Kumamoto and Miyazaki, about one and a half hours by car heading north from downtown Kagoshima. The area has been famous for a long time in Kyushu as home to Isamai, a delicious brand of rice nurtured by the large temperature fluctuations characteristic of a basin. Isa also produces a lot of shochu, made with rice malt from the Isamai rice, high quality water and sweet potatoes. Its history is over 400 years long.
We visited the distillery of shochu manufacturer Okuchi Shuzo Company in Isa.
There used to be 13 shochu makers in Isa, but in 1970, 11 of them launched a co-op and put their potato shochu, which until then was sold, under separate names, into one brand Isanishiki, which is now being sold throughout Japan.
Kotaro Harada, head of the distillery, showed us how shochu is made.
First, the rice malt made with local Isamai rice is mixed with water and yeast. It is slowly fermented to make fermenting mash. Then, it is further fermented with Kogane Sengan sweet potatoes from Kagoshima, said to be best for sweet shochu. Okuchi Shuzo still firmly continues the tradition of choosing sweet potatoes for this by hand. The workers carefully remove both ends and scarred or damaged areas, to make sure the resulting shochu will not have any undesirable taste. Finally, the second-fermented mash is distilled to extract highly pure and aromatic shochu.
“I have been involved in making shochu for 30 years, but I still love the moment when the mash becomes aromatic as the first and second fermentation processes take place. I think this is a truly tasty shochu with very carefully selected ingredients,” says Harada.
But for many years, Harada and the staff had one concern. The process of making Isanishiki shochu yielded tons of shochu lees, the leftover material after distilling the fermenting mash. Until some time ago they had been allowed to discard the lees in the ocean, but after a regulation by the London Convention came into effect in 2007 it became totally prohibited. Distilleries had to contract waste processing to designated operators at high costs.
Japan Farm, a large-scale pig farm in Isa, was the company who turned their eyes to this waste shochu lees that had nowhere to go. Looking at the ingredients of Isanishiki shochu lees, they thought maybe they could use that to feed their pigs.
Shochu lees changes meat quality
Japan Farm’s pig farm is located about eight kilometers from Okuchi Shuzo’s distillery. The vast premises are the size of about 27 Tokyo Domes. It is one of the largest pig farms in Japan, raising 110,000 pigs at any given time.
“Our management and Okuchi Shuzo’s management were talking to each other, because we are both in the same location and were wondering if there was any way we could work together. When we experimented by putting their shochu lees in our pig feed, many good results emerged, so in 2007 we became fully engaged in the joint project,” says Takeshi Miyamoto, from Japan Farm's Business Division.
For the first two years, Japan Farm evaluated how shochu lees would change the way the pigs grow. Probably because pigs generally like fermented foods, pigs at Japan Farm started eating more than before, which reduced the time needed to grow pigs to the size ready for shipment by about two weeks, compared to pigs not fed with the shochu lees. Also, meat from the pigs raised on the shochu lees had high amounts of polyphenols and Vitamin E from sweet potatoes, and thanks to their antioxidant properties, the meat’s flavor lasted longer and the meat became tenderer.
There was one problem. Shochu could only be manufactured between August and December when sweet potatoes were harvested. To solve this problem, Okuchi Shuzo adopted a freezing technology for sweet potatoes that significantly altered the temperature control process, making it possible to provide shochu lees stably throughout the year.
Next, Japan Farm constructed their own feed-supplying system to mix the shochu lees and another special feed efficiently and ultimately started shipping the meat under the brand name Satsuma Koji Imo Buta (Satsuma lees and sweet potato pork). On top of the quality of the meat, the process of using shochu lees as a feed has garnered much attention from around Japan, attracting countless business people including pig farm owners to the farm to study the process.
“In future, we would like to recycle pig feces in the fertilizer to grow sweet potatoes for shochu to help the local recycling cycle stabilize. Until now we haven’t sold our pork locally, so I would like to roll out our pork that we created jointly with Okuchi Shuzo to local hotels and restaurants,” says Miyamoto.
Satsuma Koji Imo Buta pork gift set, enhancing the natural taste of ingredients
This time, E-ZEY JAPAN has developed gift sets containing bacon, sausages and ham made from Satsuma Koji Imo Buta pork created by Japan Farm and Okuchi Shuzo, and an assortment of Asahi Dry Premium Hojo beer with a beautiful design of Wind and Thunder Gods—a folding screen from Tokyo National Museum—printed on a golden background.
The supreme bacon is smoked with domestic mountain cherry wood chips, so that its delicious aroma and fat will climax when grilled. Smoked to make sure the skin sizzles, the sausages have a great smoky aroma and coarsely ground meat texture encased in crispy skin. The ham is smoked on the surface to seal in the juicy tastiness, and heated slowly so that the fat tastes just right.
The products are carefully and simply flavored, to bring out the original tenderness, moderate firmness and tastiness of Satsuma Koji Imo Buta pork. They can be served as are for meals including breakfast, but are designed to get juicier and more aromatic when sautéed a little. Enjoy them with the blissful Asahi Premium Hojo beer.
Writer : TAICHI UEDA / Photographer : SATOSHI TACHIBANA / Movie : CHIZU TAKAKURA
〈E‐ZEY JAPAN〉 Satsuma Koji Imo Pork Ham & Sausage with Limited-Edition Tokyo National Museum and Asahi Dry Premium Hojo Wind God and Thunder God Folding Screen Gift Set
〈E‐ZEY JAPAN〉 Marinated Fish & Satsuma Koji Imo Pork Ham & Sausage with Limited-Edition Tokyo National Museum and Asahi Dry Premium Hojo Wind God and Thunder God Folding Screen Gift Set
Kagoshima Prefecture Tourism Information