Itsukushima (in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture) is an island located in Setonaikai, or Seto Inland Sea. The island, called Miyajima or Aki-no-Miyajima, is one of the "Three best views in Japan" together with Matsushima (in Miyagi) and Amano-Hashidate (in Kyoto). Located in the Northeast of the island, Itsukushima Shrine was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1996. Also the Itsukushima Shrine was selected as the third place in "Popular tourist spots for foreigners in Japan in 2015" released by Trip Adviser. Lots of tourists from inside and outside Japan visit the shrine every day.
In November 2015, Italian restaurant "MIYAJIMA Bocca Al-ché-cciano" was opened near a ferryboat dock with a route to and from Itsukushima. "MIYAJIMA Bocca Al-ché-cciano" was opened as the first restaurant in Chugoku region directly managed by Chef Masayuki Okuda who runs his restaurants by practicing the idea of local production for local consumption.
"This restaurant faces Setonaikai (the Seto Inland Sea) and has a view of Itsukushima Shrine in the distance. I could open my restaurant in this wonderful place which might only happen once in a lifetime." said Chef Okuda.
Born in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata-Prefecture. In 2000, Chef Okuda opened "Al-ché-cciano" in his hometown, where his dishes use seasonal food and wines produced locally. In 2006, he was selected as one of the best world's 1,000 chefs in "Terra Madre 2006" hosted by Italian Slow Food International (11 Japanese was selected). In 2009, he opened "YAMAGATA San-Dan-Delo" at Ginza, Tokyo. In 2012, he was named as a "Peace Ambassador for Food" by the Republic of San Marino. He also served as a cuisine supervisor for "Japan Night 2012" at the Davos Meeting held in Switzerland in the same year.
Restaurant "MIYAJIMA Bocca Al-ché-cciano" prides itself in serving dishes featuring ingredients gained locally from the Chogoku and Shikoku regions.
"Take for example the olive-fed beef. I had heard about it but had never tasted it myself. However, as I was searching for Setonaikai-specific ingredients, I happened to find this olive-fed beef and it changed everything." Okuda said.
Olive beef is a premium brand of beef that has been produced in Shodoshima, Kagawa since 2010. Shodoshima is renowned for its olive production. The oil is pressed in the fall and made into olive oil. The cattle raised in the region are branded as "Olive-fed Beef" since they are fed dried olive fruit. Chef Okuda had the opportunity to taste olive beef for the first time in winter of 2016 at the one of his restaurant, YAMAGATA Sandandero in Ginza Tokyo, where he tried various parts of the red meat such as round, rump, chuck, and sirloin.
"There are many places in Japan that serve nice marbled beef. Yet, I had not encountered marbled beef that was just perfect. What's nice about olive beef is that it's light fat in and doesn't have a strong aftertaste. I've decided to use healthier parts of red meat, namely round and rump, in my Miyajima restaurant. "
After tasting the beef, he ordered Olive-fed beef for his restaurant. He also has a great knowledge of olive oil. He tried to get olive oil as well from Shodoshima. Then, he tried to make some dishes to see if the combination of Olive-fed beef and local olive oil was good. Some of the dishes are as follows.
Thinly-sliced round of Olive-fed beef is blanched in shabushabu style, then put on a vegetable salad. The grissini, deep-fried with olive oil, is topped on the salad. The healthy and refreshing taste can be enjoyed by cooking the Olive-beef in shabushabu style featuring meat which is not oily. "You can enjoy the flavor of the cutlet by tasting beef with grissini at the same time," said Okuda.
Trofie is a kind of short pasta and means "rub" in Italian. Chef Okuda made trofie from Olive-fed beef. At first, he slices the round meat. Then he rolls and twists the meat by hand. The round meat trofie are dressed with parmesan cheese. Then he serves them on a plate spread with Genovese sauce. Finally, he broils it with a blowtorch and sprinkles with some olive oil.
The tender texture of the red meat of Olive-fed beef impressed me. The fact that it's not oily and the flavor of parmesan cheese went well together. The marriage made him smile. "I think the texture is unique and tasty," said Okuda.
Tasting various dishes of Olive-fed beef, Okuda was surprised at the taste of the red meat and the smooth, less oily meat. One month later, we visited Shodoshima in Kagawa to see where and by whom the Olive-fed cattle is raised.
For Reservation, please call the restaurant directly. English-speaking staff available.
On March 2nd in early spring, Chef Okuda arrived at Shodoshima Island.
Olive is both the symbol flower and tree of Kagawa, which Shodoshima Island is located in. Kagawa currently produces 95% of Japan's olives and they are mainly cultivated in Shodoshima. Olive trees were first introduced to the island in 1908. Now, four kinds of olives are cultivated such as Lucca, Mission, Nevadillo Blanco, and Manzanillo. They are harvested in autumn. Then, the oil is pressed with a special tool and shipped as Shodoshima's olive oil.
I visited a manufacturer at Puglia in Italy around 10 years ago. The strained olive skins were piled messily on the floor. Most of the skins were discarded after pressing as industrial waste while they were seldom used as fuel during winter.
However, in Shodoshima, the technique of processing olive skins was developed and olive skins are used as feed. The olive skins are fed to cattle and its manure is used to fertilize the olive farms. That's the recycling-based agriculture. If the skins are discarded, they are just industrial waste. However, in Kagawa where the skins are used effectively, they are called "fruit with oil removed".
It is Ishii Masaki, living in Shodoshima, who focused on the fruit with oil removed. He is not a person from an olive oil manufacturer. He is a local cattle rancher.
He has shipped his cattle to Kakogawa Regional Market (in Kakogawa, Hyogo) for many years, but the prices of his cattle were becoming stagnate due to a flood of many kinds of brand beef becoming popular. In 2007, he tried to feed his cattle olive feed in order to characterize his Sanuki beef (black Japanese wagyu beef).
As soon as entering the cattle barn led by Mr. Ishii, Okuda was introduced to olive feed. Okuda said
"The olive feed is fragrant and smells like caramel,"
and picked up some feed to taste it.
"This is nice and addictive. This is good to use in my cooking. I guess the cow must think it's tasty, too. However, why did you try to feed your cattle olive feed?"
"Olive contains lots of umami flavor of oleic acid. I expected that Sanuki beef could gain good fatty meat if they were fed olive feed made of fruit with oil removed. Now they love to eat it. However, they never ate it in the past because I fed my cattle the unprocessed skins."
Fruit with olive oil removed contains not only lots of water, but also a bitter taste. That's why his cattle didn't like it.
The next year, the meat shipped by Mr. Ishii was praised by marketers. "The marbling of this meat is so good! How about raising the cattle as a Shodoshima brand?"
Having confidence in his beef, Mr. Ishii started raising Olive-fed cattle with two of his friends living on the island.
The next spring, the brand beef named "Olive-fed Beef" was launched in Kagawa. Now, an olive oil manufacturer processes fruit with oil removed into olive feed. Fruit with oil removed is roasted at a high temperature and gains aromatic flavor, like caramel. The fragrant sweet smell may seduce cattle to eat it using their long tongues.
Two months before shipping, he feeds his cattle the olive feed. Ishii explained the effect of enhancing antioxidants and glutamic acid of umami component was shown.
"Thanks to the olive feed, their red meat such as rump and round meat is tender, and also the fat is smooth and has a sweetness and umami flavor."
"I guess the method of cattle farming by Ishii affects the tastiness of the beef. Generally speaking, cattle often step back when they see a stranger. However, this is not the case with his cattle. Their cute faces show they must have grown up here without worries."
Now 80 people raise Olive-fed beef in Shodoshima, Odeshima Island, and Takamatsu City, besides Ishii. Around 2,000 cattle are raised and are being shipped to the Metropolitan area in addition to Kagawa. Moreover, exporting has started recently. In 2015, 60 cattle were sent to Southeast Asia, 12 to EU, and four to New York. The achievements are still not much, however, the name of Olive-fed beef is becoming more well-known in the U.S., EU, and Southeast Asia. In addition to that, the useful recycling method is gathering attention from all over the world. Therefore, the number of people in the food industry or butchers from the U.S., France, and Spain visiting Shodoshima is increasing.
Okuda headed to Mr. Tsutumi's olive farm after visiting Ishii's place. There were numerous olive trees in the hillside. The warm scenery with foliage made it seem as if we were not in Japan, but in the countryside of Italy.
Tsutsumi moved to Shodoshima from Osaka 11 years ago. He has started cultivating olives and established "i's Life" which sells olive oils. Now He cultivates Lucca, Mission, Nevadillo Blanco, and Manzanillo. He built an oil press factory last year and started pressing oil there.
"I cultivate only Lucca in this Nagahama field."
"When will you harvest them?"
"I am going to harvest in November. If they are too ripe, they will drop. If it rains, it's necessary to harvest as many as possible in a short time. I need workers to handpick olives one by one. Therefore, I ask local people, my friends, and acquaintances every time for a harvesting experience event, which is substantially volunteer work," he said with a smile.
Then, Okuda responded quickly to the talk of a harvesting experience event.
"I'd like to conduct a Shodoshima tour in November. Participants would be able to join the harvest and visit Mr. Ishii's farm to see Olive-fed cattle. After that, they are going to move to Miyajima and taste Olive-fed beef in my restaurant. "
In addition to i's Life, there are many olive oil manufacturers in Shodoshima. Okuda is going to taste these olive oils and list Olive-fed beef items on his menus after considering the taste combined with olive oils.
"I would be serving Olive-fed beef as a good simple dish."
An Olive-fed beef tour is going to be held for two days one night on the 19th -20th of November. For more information, please inquire through MIYAJIMA Bocca Al-ché-cciano.
After visiting the olive field, we moved to a restaurant, "EAT", located in a residential area of Shodoshima because a friend of Okuda recommended the restaurant for lunch.
The number of people moving to Kagawa from other areas is on the increase. The above-mentioned Tsutsumi moved from Osaka, while the Nagahama family who run the restaurant "Eat" moved from Tokyo.
A clinic made of wood was renovated in 2010. Then, they started the restaurant with an open kitchen. White walls, window frames, and shelves show a hint of the former clinic. Though it was my first time visiting, the familiar scenery made me feel like I had been there before.
Chef Nagahama was bustling about making dishes in the back kitchen, near the window. The retro-inspired restaurant was surrounded by the warm and mouthwatering scent from the open kitchen. Peanuts were used as chopstick rests, using the groove of the shell to rest the chopsticks, and handwritten menu was on the table.
The lunch of the day could be chosen from 6 items such as "Pork loin miso cutlet combo" and "Rice bowl of simmered pork belly in moromi miso". Okuda chose the "Marinated Chicken in shio-koji and seasonal vegetables combo". The dish came with chicken and a generous amount of various vegetables in a bamboo steamer.
There was a book shelf with cookbooks back to back with the white shelves by the entrance. I found three recipe books written by Chef Okuda. Chef Tsutomu Nagahama is a fan of Okuda, so he bought some books of his.
Okuda talked to Chef Nagahama after the rush of customers had been served.
"Actually, I came to Shodoshima to see Olive-fed cattle."
"I also use it in my restaurant. I tried it for the first time 6 years ago, and I found the taste superb. Now I serve grilled Olive-fed beef as a dinner course item."
"I see. I'm going to use Olive-fed Beef in my restaurant that opened in Miyajima last year. Please come visit with your family."
Though it was just a brief stopover, Chef Okuda may have been inspired by meeting Ishii, Tsutsumi, and Nagahama and it may influence some of his dishes. Moreover, I expect as a gourmand I will have a chance to have more fancy dishes someday in the future.
I received an e-mail from Nagahama afterward to let me know that he made a reservation for the restaurant in Miyajima. I'm not sure whether he will order Olive-fed beef dishes. However, if he tastes "Olive-fed beef in trofie style" created by Chef Okuda, I expect he will be inspired. Olive-fed beef has a hidden potential to give chefs new ideas and also a source of pride.