WALNUTS IN DALI

Beijing, 24 March 2013

I mentioned in a recent posting that I had just come back from a business trip. This was to Dali, in the province of Yunnan, or to give it its full name the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. My first day was spent in the city of Dali, which sits on the southern shore of Lake Erhai. I was there to hold discussions with the local government. I was pleased to be back in Dali, which is a pleasant city, in contrast to most Chinese cities. For one thing, the site is really quite spectacular.

Erhai Lake-3

There’s also a nice old city, which hasn’t been swept away by revolution or later by capitalism. It’s been considerably prettified for the tourists, but it’s still a nice place to walk around. I didn’t go there this time, but I had seen it during my last visit to Dali. There are some well-known old pagodas

Dali-three-pagodas

and nice “old” roads and buildings – with, of course, lots of shops for tourists.

Dali-old-town-2

Dali-old-town-1

What was really nice this time was that, like in this photo, the fruit trees were in bloom: a sight for sore eyes after cold and dreary Beijing. It will be at least a month, possibly a month and a half, before we see the same thing in Beijing.

Last, but not least, this area of China is one of the few, perhaps the only one, where there is a local tradition of eating cheese! They have always had cow and goat herds here and they routinely drink and eat dairy products. The cheese is a bit odd, and they tend to eat it fried, but it is still cheese.

cheese-2

The local government has a good eye for location. They built the prefecture’s government complex on top of a hill which drops steeply into the lake. So the buildings have a beautiful view of the lake. This is what you see from the car park in front of the buildings.

Dali-visit-march 002

It was the same view I had sitting in the government banquet hall that evening. The hall has been built with a huge window giving onto the lake, and so as I and my host carried on a stilted conversation I could watch the night slowly steal over the lake.

But I had not gone down to Yunnan to admire Erhai lake and Dali. I was there to talk … walnuts. It may surprise the reader to know that China is the largest producer of walnuts in the world. A good portion of these are grown in Yunnan, and a good portion of these are grown in Dali prefecture. So the next day, I was driven to a valley on the other side of these mountains

Erhai Lake-1

to visit a walnut orchard and a walnut processing facility. From the discussions I had held the previous day and from further explanations I received on the way, I had a handle on the basic problem. The government had encouraged the local farmers to plant walnut trees, as a way to increase their incomes but also to reforest the prefecture’s hills.

walnut orchards-1

Now, as more and more trees reached maturity – it takes about ten years for a tree to produce walnuts – the government realized they had to find something to do with all the walnuts which were about to flood on the market and depress prices. They were asking our help to find markets outside China.

To reach the walnut orchard, we climbed up, up, up the steep hills enclosing the valley, through one switchback after another. When we reached the top, I gazed around me and was terribly reminded of Liguria in Italy. I was seeing walnut trees rather than olive trees, and instead of the glint of the Mediterranean Sea far down below me I was seeing rich valley bottomland planted in vegetables. But the feel was very much the same, the feeling of being perched on an edge and risking to tumble down at any moment.

After a few moments, Farmer Liu arrived. He immediately opened a red packet of cigarettes – still the official sign of welcome in rural China – and offered a cigarette to all and sundry. I felt rather bad for him that all us city slickers, Chinese included, politely refused. Before coming, and knowing roughly what the Dali authorities wanted to talk to me about, I had phoned a colleague who knew about walnuts and had him coach me. So I was now able to pepper Farmer Liu with some not-too-stupid questions and understand his answers. After some ten minutes of this, Farmer Liu invited us to enter a small show room where we sat down and ate some of his walnuts. I was struck by how much more pitted the walnut shells were, almost as if they had been dunked in acid

walnuts in shell-1

I think this will be a problem outside of China, where people are used to relatively smooth shells. But the flesh was delicious.

walnuts partially unshelled-1

As I ate, I looked around at the various products on show, wondering which of these could find larger markets if suitably produced. I mentally nixed this product made from sliced walnut shells.

walnut-handicraft-2

I don’t see this catching on outside of China, or even outside of Yunnan …

Walnut oil?

walnut oil-2

Possible, although it can’t be used for cooking, which would be the big market; when heated it takes on a slightly bitter taste. It can be used in cosmetics, though, which could be a good market

walnut-cosmetic-1

or in suntanning agents

walnut-tanning agent

There’s also walnut milk, which – like almond milk – is really a mix of very finely ground walnut and water.

walnut-milk-1

Maybe this should be left to the national market. It’s becoming increasingly popular here, and I’m not sure how easily exportable it is.

How about walnut butter, cousin to the better-known peanut butter?walnut-butter-1

Definitely for the export markets. The Chinese don’t eat nut butters.

And so my eyes wandered around the shelves, while my hand dipped the walnut pieces into a delicious honey dip. The honey was creamy thick and pale yellow, really, really lovely. And then my mind began to wander, as I sat there enjoying the spring sun and the blossoming fruit trees outside the showroom.

We’ll find solutions, but not right now.

walnuts-on-trees-1

_____________________________

Erhai Lake-1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/Erhai_Lake_Dali_07.JPG/1280px-Erhai_Lake_Dali_07.JPG
Dali-three-pagodas: http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/5043/three-pagodas-in-dali.jpg
Dali-old-town-1: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/4e/7d/14/dali-gucheng-the-old.jpg
Dali-old-town-2: http://www.interasia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/China-yunnan.jpg
Cheese: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7169/6430350689_80c3790afb_z.jpg
Erhai Lake-2: my photo
Erhai Lake-3: http://www.chinamaps.info/images/Attraction/Dali/Erhai%20Lake.jpg
Walnut orchard: http://en.kunming.cn/index/image/attachement/jpg/site162/20110609/001f29dcfe6f0f5acab506.jpg
Walnuts in shell: http://www.justeasy.com.cn/img/upload/20120312/051416082793.jpg
Walnuts partially unshelled: http://www.yspl.cn/UploadFiles/2011-12/yspl3/2011122009130516038.jpg
Walnut handicraft: http://www.gd-wholesale.com/userimg/23/3568i1/walnut-vase-331.jpg
Walnut oil: http://masvidaquenunca.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/mas_vida_que_nunca_stop_al_catarro_aceites_vegetales_y_frutos_secos.jpg
Walnut-cosmetics: http://www.buycosmo.com/images/products/04/79/59/47959_buyuk_zoom.jpg
Walnut tanning oil: http://www.adoretanning.com/images/detailed/1/Summer-Tan-Self-Tanning-Lotion—Dark.jpg
Walnut milk: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Y5j66WGE3zk/UGpSGSLThjI/AAAAAAAAJ1g/9zblIgnPBzg/s1600/milk1-600×576.jpg
Walnut butter: http://cdn.livesuperfoods.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/p/r/pre-walnut-butter_1.jpg
Walnut on the tree: http://cdn.livesuperfoods.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/thumbnail/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/w/a/walnuts_30.jpg

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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