When Akihiro Iio removes the wooden lid of one of the 2-meter-high tanks, a sour aroma with a hint of sweetness and bloom rises out in a storehouse.
Since 1893, his family has been operating the Iio Jozo vinegar brewery here in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture.
At 43, Iio is keeping the family's traditions alive, overseeing a traditional, time-consuming process using acetic acid bacteria.
"I don’t think there are many manufacturers that adopt these old-style procedures," says Iio, the fifth-generation proprietor.
Iio Jozo first makes its own "sumoto-moromi" sake from pesticide-free rice and then turns it into vinegar in about 100 days through "static fermentation."
The surface, which is kept at around 40 degrees, is covered with a thin film of acetic acid bacteria the color of "kinako" toasted soybean flour.
Part of this film is removed and floated on the surface of another batch of sake to be newly fermented. The surface becomes coated with film in two to three days.
After fermentation, the brewery leaves the vinegar to mature for about 300 days.
"The flavor becomes rounded," says Iio.
Iio Jozo has paid contracted farmers premium prices for pesticide-free rice. It also began growing some rice itself around 15 years ago.
When the rice planting and harvesting seasons arrive, Iio Jozo calls on its customers nationwide to come and personally join in the work. The brewery sees this as a way of showing that it values people.
"People living in cities get to experience something out of the ordinary. They seem to have fun," Iio says.
In the old days, people would often gather at the brewery for the Bon Festival, New Year’s and other occasions. Iio’s mother, Satomi, 68, prepared meals for them.
Although there are fewer such occasions today, Iio’s wife, Ayako, 40, helps with the preparations when they have guests.
Satomi and Ayako worked together to make the red-and-white salad for New Year’s.
Iio says the dish is close to him because it features a distinctive flavor of vinegar.
Iio’s family chooses reddish Kintoki carrots to create a vivid contrast of red and white. Yuzu fruit, which they received from a neighbor, adds more color to the dish.
"Naturally, the dish is for auspicious occasions. But the color lifts our hearts in winter when the weather can get dark in the Tango area (in northern Kyoto Prefecture)," says Satomi, who makes the dish on occasions other than New Year’s.
Newly harvested rice sits in the storehouse. With the arrival of the New Year, the preparation for sumoto-moromi sake will soon begin.
250 grams (net weight) daikon radish
50 grams carrot
A piece of yuzu zest
1 tsp salt
Vinegar mixture (1.5 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugarcane sugar, tsp salt)
Cut daikon at 5-cm intervals, peel and cut into 3-mm square strips along fiber. Cut carrot in the same manner. The texture is retained by not cutting the fiber.
Place daikon and carrot in bowl, add salt and mix thoroughly. Leave for 10 to 15 minutes.
When vegetables become tender, mix and check taste. It should taste somewhat salty. If too salty, add a bit of water.
Tightly squeeze out water with hands, mix with vinegar mixture. Leave for a while so flavors settle. Serve in bowl and garnish with yuzu zest.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column. This column will next appear on Jan. 23.