Artisanal rice and "ancient" heirloom rice in The Japan Times
This month's Japanese Kitchen article in The Japan Times is about a quietly growing trend in Japan: artisanal rice. Rice farmers had been protected by the government for decades, but now those protections seem to be set to erode even more (they've already been reduced quite a bit). One way some farmers are coping with this is to concentrate on making high quality, organic rice only. The rice produced like this is still in very short supply (the farm I mentioned, Nonki Farm in Harie, Shiga prefecture, has already sold out of most of this year's harvest) and expensive, but I think it's a trend that is set to increase. Japanese rice farms are usually quite small, and can't really compete on the price level with cheap imported rice that's grown on vast fields in the U.S. or China. So...why not go high end? I've tried some of this year's new harvest rice from Nonki Farm (a variety with the delectable name of Milky Queen) and it was absolutely delicious - sweet, and juicy even, which is a strange thing to say about rice maybe, but it really was that good.
Besides regular rice, some farms are growing heirloom varieties of rice. The photo above is a closeup of a mixed bag of such 'kodaimai' or ancient rice varieties. Here is some regular rice cooked with a handful of the kodaimai mix. The black rice turns the white rice purple. Taste-wise there isn't a big difference, although the kodaimai is mochi rice (sweet rice) so it adds a stickier texture.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the article: Demand Booming for artisanal rice. (I wouldn't say it's booming yet exactly...that was my editor being enthusiastic. ^^; But I do hope it booms!)
Incidentally, the "nonki"(呑気) of Nonki Farm means easygoing, carefree and optimistic. What a lovely name for a farm, don't you think? We should all be a bit more nonki.