Just days before my travel, I read a New York Times article about a man making microbrewed soy sauce in Louisville. I did a double-take. Louisville? I had to visit.
Matt Jamie is a chef and founder of Bourbon Barrel Foods, and it seems his production of sorghum, sea salt and spices has been the opening act to his true passion: being the first in America to make small-batch soy sauce. He likes to joke that Kikkoman spills more soy sauce in a day’s production than he’ll produce in many years. Not a joke, though, is the quality.
I like Kikkoman well-enough. My partner is Japanese, and she says it’s popular in Japan; we use the all-purpose variety, actually made in Wisconsin, at home. But one taste of Matt’s Bluegrass Soy Sauce was a transforming experience. At the production facility (behind a gift shop in a converted factory), I took in its clear, brown color, then slowly sipped it from a small cup. Depth. That’s the first word that came to mind. Unlike the simple, salty taste of many soy sauces, this one had great depth. And great promise.
When I got home and opened a bottle, my partner shot me a look of skepticism. We ultimately tested it three ways: dipped in daikon, as part of tamago kake gohan, and with sashimi. “Umai” and “umami” are what we said to each other. Simple to explain is umai, which means delicious. Umami, on the other hand, is more difficult. It’s like the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Get this, and you’ll get what makes Bluegrass Soy Sauce so good.
My thanks to Matt for sharing his enthusiasm and showing me the process of making his soy sauce. The beans are his babies, and as I watched him watch over each step of their fermentation and transformation, I felt the pride of someone who cares about his product – and about the quality of the food we consume.