Mr. Yamamoto Katsunosuke established his eponymous sansho company in 1880 in Kainan City, Wakayama Prefecture. Realizing that the hilly local landscape was not suitable for crop farming, Yamamoto-san worked with the local farmers to cultivate Budo sansho trees that produced a high yield. It turns out that sansho trees don't like being in the sun all day, so planting them on a mountainside is perfect. Sansho trees have a relatively short productive life, producing well for only ten years, after which their yields drop significantly. Given the terrain and the short productive life, you can tell that sansho farming is a labor of love (emphasis on labor).
Sansho is the berry from the Japanese prickly ash tree, and is closely related to Szechuan pepper. It has amazing citrusy notes on the nose and a cooling, numbing effect when it hits your tongue. To process sansho, first the berries are dried and then the stem and seed is removed. It is the dried outer husk of the berry that is then ground three times in a stone mill, each time using a successively finer grinding stone.
For more on our visit to Katsunosuke Yamomoto, please click here.