Hokkaido is famous for it's "fresh dairy" - or so I'm frequently told. When I did some research about my placement before coming to Japan, I was happy to find this bit of information. I'm a huge diary fan. I like milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and all the other things that come from cows.
Yet, as I should have expected, their definition of these food terms is different here. For example, ice cream never comes in a pint, let alone a gallon. Mini individual cups are about all you can get for ice cream, they cost almost as much as a pint would back home, and every store carries Haagen Dazs but few stores carry local ice cream. No more ice cream with birthday cakes then. But, it turns out that it's easy to live without ice cream. I never really ate that much in the States, and I just have even less now which is probably for the best.
The difficult thing for me to live without is cheese. I didn't realize how much of it I consumed until I moved here. I wanted to make lasagna, but I couldn't find ricotta cheese. I wanted to make a spinach and artichoke dip (sent from my loving mother in the States) but I can't find Swiss cheese anywhere. I wanted to make grilled cheese sandwiches - denied. Pepperjack? Non-existent. Sharp Cheddar? Nope.
Basically, there is only some weird, unknown mix of white shredded cheese in most grocery stores. Some grocery stores carry tiny boxes of cream cheese as a "luxury" item. Any non-white plain cheese is exotic, and therefore sold in tablespoon sizes at exorbitant prices.
In the past few years, the tide has been changing and real cheese has been invading Hokkaido. Ironically, it's due almost 100% to the fact that a Costco moved to Sapporo a few years ago. They carry large blocks of cheese (definitely unheard of before) and now...occasionally...a grocery store by the name of "Tobu" will sell Kirkland Costco products in its stores all across Hokkaido - including the blocks of cheese! And, for Japan, the prices are reasonable. A few weeks ago I bought some of this flavorful (orange) cheddar cheese. I've been enjoying the block of cheese as a snack, as additions to sandwiches, and as accompaniments to crackers and apples.
Last month, I had my monthly "Lunch with Ms. Kim" session where any student can join me for lunch and a mostly-English conversation. About eight students showed up and we were enjoying our conversation when I pulled out my lunch: apple, almonds and raisins mix, plus some slices of cheddar cheese. It was mayhem. No one could believe that I was eating orange cheese. In fact, they had never even seen orange cheese before. I took out a slice and let the students split the slice so they could all try cheddar cheese.
The responses varied as one would expect - some loved it and some didn't. But I left the session amazed that so many had only seen and consumed white blah cheese their entire lives. Isn't this Hokkaido? Famous for dairy? Maybe tides will change, but I expect that progress will be slow.