Meet Yukino Ochiai, Australia's sake master

By
Casey Warrener
Added
22 September, 2016

Cooked catches up with Yukino Ochiai, owner of Deja Vu Sake Company and the only certified sake educator in Australia. Here, Yukino shares how to drink, choose and, most importantly, pair sake with food.

What is it about sake that you find so fascinating? I think firstly because it’s produced in the country I was born, so naturally I have an interest in my own culture. Also my grandmother was a sake drinker, so when I was growing up we always had it around.

What is the best temperature to drink sake at? Sake is unique in that you can have it cold, room temperature or warm. ‘Cold’ for sake is between 12 and 15 degrees, room temperature around 20 degrees and warm is around 40. If it’s aromatic sake like daiginjo and ginjo, drink it cold, but not too cold. Again, that’s because of the acidity levels, which in sake are due to lactic acid and not going to provide the refreshing acidity that a wine would when cold. Earthy styles of sake like junmai are best at room temperature or warmer. In Japan, people drink sake cold in summer and warm in winter.

How many grades of sake are there? Officially, there are eight. The top grade is daiginjo and the second grade is ginjo, which has to do with how polished the rice is. These highly-polished, premium-grade sakes tend to be cleaner and more fragrant.

What’s your all-time favourite food and sake match? Cheese and sake are best friends! If it were a light style like ginjo, goat’s cheese would be good. If it were something like junmai or koshu [aged sake], then you can have anything from sharp cheddar to blue cheese.

If you were to cook a sake-matched meal for friends, what dishes would most likely appear? I’d prepare carpaccio for a cold dish and hotpot for a warm. If there were barbecued meat in the hotpot I’d pair it with the earthier, full-bodied junmai style, and if the carpaccio were kingfish or snapper then I’d go for ginjo. And with koshu I’d go for a chocolate dessert.

What’s the most unique sake you’ve tried? Aged sake [koshu] is interesting and there are more sake brewers in Japan exploring its potential. It’s been around for a while but it hasn’t been that popular until now. The sake world is taking inspiration from the world of wine more than before and so we’re seeing more of those matured styles coming through.

Tell us something most people don’t know about sake. That standard sake is only 15 or 16 per cent alcohol. There is a misconception that sake is distilled, but actually the initial stage of production is more like beer and the second stage more like winemaking. It’s also preservative and gluten free.

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