Thursday, July 14, 2011

QBB 6P Hokkaido Cheese

I'm a sucker for any box that has cow illustrations on it. I'm not sure why that is, but it remains the truth and I'm not afraid to admit it!

One experience I often have with my students is that I will ask them a question about Japan or Japanese culture and they will answer with, "I never thought about it". When you grow up in a culture, you rarely pause to question why you or other people do the things you do. You simply do it.

For instance, I might ask, "why do you think Japanese culture evolved such that people take off their shoes before entering the house?" The common answer is that they are just such darn clean people. The reality, I'd wager, is linked to the evolution in furnishings in Japan. They didn't happen to build beds off the floor, or chairs with legs, so sitting on the floor all of the time ramped up the need to keep it clean. It's not that Japanese are genetically inclined to be cleaner than any other human DNA line. It's, perhaps, just that their culture followed a different path on the furniture front and shoe removal was a more logical step for them than inventing the vacuum cleaner or raising their beds off the dirty floor. (Note: I think that climate played a role in this as well as you don't have shoe removal in very cold climates, but that's not really an issue for this blog.)

My point is that you don't think about things very deeply after you've seen them for awhile (or forever), and only today did I ponder this sort of packaging and sales of cheese in Japan. The Japanese, in my experience, are not a nation of cheese eaters. That is not to say they don't eat cheese as a component of a dish. They certainly do. However, I've never spoken to anyone who said they routinely grab a wedge or slice of cheese and chow down on it for a snack. I, on the other hand, often enjoy a slice of cheese and a handful of mini pretzels as a fortifying tea time repast.

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of varieties of cheese sold in these round boxes with individually wrapped foil wedges. The varieties cover sweet and savory with "rum raisin" and "vanilla" dessert cheese options and faux mozzarella and black pepper varieties as well. Since the retail price of a box of these types of things is around 300 yen ($3.74) for six 18-gram (.63 oz.) wedges, I tend not to buy them because I've got real cheese (rather than processed, as most Japanese cheese is) on hand that costs less. However, with the closest Costco having been shut down due to some earthquake-related fatalities, I ran out of cheese and found this box of Hokkaido cheese for a mere 198 yen ($2.47) at Lawson 100 and decided that I was going to have to get my cheese on more expensively.

The main selling point of this is that at least 60% of the milk used for it is from Hokkaido. I've mentioned before that the Japanese are bonkers about regional food, and the fact that origins are mentioned early and often supports this assertion. Yes, in America, people will buy "real Wisconsin cheddar", but I think that that type of selling point isn't nearly as common or as valued. I've never had a discussion with an American who said, "it's from (region), so it's better." I hear such statements at least twice a month living here. Frankly, I don't know if the dairy being from Hokkaido makes this better cheese, but I do find it an interesting cultural point.

For processed cheese, this is pretty nice. It cleaves in a manner which I find satisfying. You can see grains along the break and it has the heft of a real cheese, though it still is softer than the real deal. It is mild, but still has a pungency to it so that it tastes like cheese rather than cheese product. One thing I have to give Japanese processed cheese makers credit for is that, most of the time, they aren't selling blocks of quivery, rubbery Velveeta-style stuff. It is more like a hybrid between real cheese and cream cheese.

Each wedge of this is 59 calories and it makes for a nice portion-controlled snack, though it is still more expensive than better quality Costco imported real cheese. If you don't have that option though, this is a pretty nice choice, and I bet it'd go really well if you sliced it in half and melted it on a cracker (a Triscuit would be divine, but then we're talking about another imported item) with some olive and tomato. It'd also be good with a dab of yuzu-koshoo or wasabi sauce.

I can say that I'd definitely buy this again because I had bought it twice before writing this review. No, I'm not over the moon about it, but it was good. And, as for the market I think it is aimed at, I think this falls into the category of otsumami (snacks to be consumed with alcohol) or bento fodder with a heavier emphasis on the former. However, unless I get to have a chat with the marketing folks at QBB, I'll never know for sure.


Soul Seeker said...

Those are like laughing cow cheese, look good they help on portion control.

Japan-Australia said...

Looks good and I love anything that comes from Hokkaido!!

Japan Australia

Andrea said...

Ah, I was going to say that those look (and sound) like Laughing Cow cheese wedges, but Soul Seeker beat me to it!

I just ate one today, what a coincidence...

Anonymous said...

I LOVE these, I bought these a few times, I have not tried Hokkaido Cheese yet, but I got the dessert version, and it was delish, under 90 calories, a perfect, semi-healthy snack. They remind me so much of laughing cow cheese too. I'm not sure if it is QBB but have you tried the dessert cheese, lemon cheesecake? I can have cheesecake under 100 calories, woot woot!