A student must seek out the best teacher possible.
On the hottest day of the 2014 summer, I went to visit the oldest natto business in the city of Tokyo. There, I was to meet Hiromitsu Amano, a fifth generation natto maker to learn about his methods.
The Amano family has owned and operated Amanoya, which produces premium natto as well as a number of other traditional Japanese fermented foods (amazake, koji and miso) since 1846. The small corner shop in front sells all the specialty foods they make; behind and underneath it are the facilities where they are created. The building and its underground fermentation rooms (similar to cheese aging caves) have been designated an official historic preservation site by the local ward government.
Amanoya is the oldest natto producer still operating in metropolitan Tokyo. His family's Amanoya natto is a top-tier small batch product, available only in Tokyo in their own Amanoya shop and in a few local gourmet retailers and restaurants. In the 170 years since the Amano family began making natto, the basic technique has remained largely unchanged. Though technical advances have improved equipment, his natto is still made by methods passed down through generations and packaged by hand.
"Selecting the best available soybeans is key to making the best natto." shared Amano-san. He said he sources his soybeans from the northern island of Hokkaido, where cooler temperatures produce high quality beans--sweeter and larger than most native Japanese soy varieties. From year to year he may buy from different farms, always looking for the best crop of that season.
Amano-san shared his knowledge and brought us inside his natto workshop to see how his natto is created. There, I saw the simple set-up where he was able to produce such wonderful food, and I was inspired. He explained his natto-making process as his sons worked around us. But finally he said, "There is no great secret; the difficult part [of making natto] is in the simple doing with consistency and care". How modest, yet true of so many things.
Much gratitude to Amano-san and his family for their kindness and generosity in opening their doors and sharing their wisdom.
Taking Amano-san's teaching to heart, we at NYrture have done our best to look far and wide across America for the best GMO-free soybeans to use in producing our natto. We will continue to do so.