Necessity may be the mother of invention, but in this case, it seems the mother of re-invention as well: Japanese foodies are making an ancient “cheese,” called so, to liven up their quarantines due to COVID-19. They’re also doing it for a civic-minded reason — with kids out of school, there is an overabundance of the milk they usually drink with their school lunches. Home cooks are now processing the excess milk into a dairy delicacy with very historic roots. The always-entertaining Gastro Obscura has the details:
“It’s not quite certain where the trend started, but along with recipes for desserts that used excess milk, a craze for making so took off in early March. So (pronounced with a short o, as in ‘lot’) is a Japanese dairy product from the Nara (710–794) and Heian (794–1185) periods, when the influence from China and Korea was at its strongest. The aristocrats that ruled the land at the time eagerly absorbed culture and technology from the mainland, including the consumption of dairy products and dairy farming, which didn’t exist in Japan at the time. […]
The Engishiki, a book of laws and customs that was written mostly in 927, notes that so was made by cooking down milk to one-tenth of its volume. It was exquisite enough to be deemed suitable for presenting to the emperor.”
Article author Makiko Itoh attempted her own batch of so at home, with mixed results. She scorched her first try, while “distracted by some COVID-19 news.” Her second batch was successful, after six hours of careful stirring on her stovetop, but tastewise, she felt it was a flop. For modern palates used to the variety of sharp, fermented, and otherwise flavourful cheeses, so, as simply concentrated milk, reads as bland.
But, like sourdough and other slow food projects that cooped-up citizens are picking up, so could be fun — and, paired with the right zesty cracker, even tasty. Now more than ever, I’m a fan of efficiency, so I’m very into this history lesson and Instagram-worthy snack all in one!