Murayama Zosu: Making the finest vinegar products for more than 250 years
Kyoto vinegars are popularly known as kyozu, and among the several locally produced brands, Murayama Zosu's Chidorisu has an especially high reputation. Its unique fullness and depth of taste, unchanged for over 250 years, are absolutely indispensable for bringing out the flavor in kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto cuisine), which has become synonymous with fine Japanese food.
Large scale Japanese vinegar production dates back to the Muromachi Period (1333 - 1576). Before that time, vinegar, like sake, was a luxury product available only to the aristocracy. Beginning in the Genroku era (1688-1704) vinegar came into wide use to fix the color in dyed kimono fabric. This process is no longer carried out with vinegar and so today the only vinegar makers surviving in Kyoto are the ones making vinegar for cooking.
Murayama Zosu produces its vinegar through a series of separate stages. First, they take normal white rice and saccharify it. Following this they ferment the mixture into alcohol. Finally, they add an acetic acid producing bacteria and allow the mixture to ferment further until it becomes vinegar. Murayama Zosu produces its vinegars using two methods: 1) their handmade vinegar making process takes about three months from start to finish. 2) using machine production techniques, the company produces about 1,000,000 liters of vinegar a year.
It is almost impossible to talk about authentic Japanese cuisine without vinegar. For example, how could we enjoy the special taste experience of sushi without vinegar? Kyoto vinegars are made to complement the subtle blend of flavors that traditional Kyoto cuisine is known for. In particular, no one flavor should dominate the overall taste, so Kyoto vinegar is very light in comparison to vinegars made in other parts of the country.
Most of Murayama Zosu's production is sold directly to restaurants, and retailed through supermarkets and in the Kyoto food speciality corners of major departments stores. Some of their best products are sold directly to Japanese restaurants in London and Paris, mainly because the vinegar in Europe is much too strong for Japanese cooking purposes.
For visitors interested in visiting Murayama Zosu's factory, tours can be arranged (advanced reservations are required, and an interpreter should accompany visitors not fluent in Japanese). For more information on arranging a tour or buying some of their products (their mustard-like vinegar miso is highly recommended) telephone the company on 075 761 3151. Their traditionally-styled newly rebuilt factory/office is centrally located on the south side of Sanjo just west of Higashioji.
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Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.