A trip to Zao is a real adventure. The mountain range spans Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures and the area is abundant with hot springs, nature, and in the winter, ski resorts (and snow monsters!). On the Miyagi side of Zao in the Togatta-onsen area is one more destination to put on your Zao trip itinerary. You of course brought your camera and now it's time to say cheese. The Zao Cheese Cabin (チーズキャビン) is part of the Zao Dairy Farm Group and is a must for cheese lovers. I am not a cheese fanatic but I am a fan that has been disappointed too many times with Japan's cheese selection, quality, price, and taste. No more, I found the mother load.
While driving back to downtown Zao from the mysterious Fox Village, my hungry friends and I passed right by the Zao Cheese Factory. I was immediately interested. Yes, there is a factory but there are no tours and you can't go inside. Still, this place was much more popular than I thought with two parking lots and several traffic guards. Behind the factory you'll find a fruit stand, bakery, restaurant specializing in cheese dishes, and the Cheese Cabin. The large, modern cabin shaped structure will soon be your best friend, unless you are lactose intolerant. Step inside and activate your taste buds.
Stretching to the far end of the Cheese Cabin were rows or cheese. Take your time browsing as the store is properly air conditioned and you will surely find something you'll like within a few minutes. You can expect some standard fare, but also there are many unique flavors I never thought was possible in the world of cheese. Other dairy products such as butter and yogurt are also available for purchase. At one end of the store you can buy soft serve ice cream made of fresh milk right from the diary company's own cows. For 50 yen you can buy a cup of ''cheese drink'' which has the texture of a drinkable yogurt with a slight cheese flavor which creates a sweet taste I couldn't get enough of. But we still haven't experienced the best part of the cabin.
Make your way to the middle of store, probably where an unruly mob has already gathered. Here is the cream cheese sampling area. The foolishly unguarded table of several cream cheeses was quickly assaulted by my friends, myself, and a dozen other shoppers during my visit. The vanilla cream cheese is a good start but do try the others including: tomato, plum, orange, strawberry, and my favorite, blueberry. I was at first skeptical of this food creation as I have seen Japan mix flavors before with disastrous results (ramen ice cream--why?!), but this was different. It was ALL good. Creamy cheese contrasted by the slightly salted and crispy crackers had me dancing with joy. Well I would have been dancing, but I just kept eating more. Staff will come over time to time to restock the cream cheeses. The cases of cream cheese are small and costs 540 yen each. However, the quality and taste is like nothing I have ever personally experienced. I probably ate a total of two containers during my sample feast and purchased two more as a gift for someone special...me.
Want more cheesy fun? On the other side of the parking lot is a restaurant specializing in cheese cuisine. Otherwise, not too far from the Cheese Cabin is Heartland where the company runs its dairy operations. There you can make your own cheese and experience life on a dairy. Check for prices and information on the website (Japanese only). The website also has an online store to view and purchase products.