One of the most fun and interesting parts of the prep work for opening Baoism is discovering and talking to artisanal food producers. We’ve been meeting with some established and small-scale organic food producers around Shanghai and are constantly discovering more.
There are many challenges facing small natural food producers in China including capital, logistics, distribution and supply constraints. Often consumers have never heard of them, don’t know that the option for artisanal food exists, and wouldn’t know where to buy it even if they did. These rural operations find their outlet through local markets, and small scale or high end distributors. Most of the perishable stuff never make it to the big cities.
For us, it is of utmost importance to find these artisans, whether oil producers, soy sauce or tofu makers, and promote and protect their craft, while educating China’s new generation on the art and heritage of our food.
One great example is Wuyuan’s organic food and condiment producer Song Feng Tsui, who Baoism will be working with to source our oil and soy bean products among others. I’ve written before about the landscape of Wuyuan, one of China’s most beautiful countrysides, but the area is also known for its fertile soil and well-preserved food traditions.
In particular, Wuyuan is famous for its camellia oil which are made from local tea tree seeds harvested in Autumn. The normally picturesque villages are even more mystical in the late Autumn light when locals cook their breakfasts by firing up the otherwise unusable shells of the tea tree seeds, creating an aromatic smoke that lingers in the air. The seeds themselves are laid out to dry under the sun before being cold-pressed into the light, fragrant cooking oil with a very high smoking point, perfect for Chinese wok fry dishes. In light of recent oil scares in urban cities, the organic and slow-produced camellia oil of Wuyuan is commanding a more premium price and is a major source of income for locals.
Song Feng Tsui is a company that has managed to consolidate some of this production from single family operations into a larger entity attempting to commercialize and bring more attention to the region and its bounty. In addition to packaging camellia oil in beautiful glass bottles, they also produce organic cooking condiments with fermented soy beans, dried pickled bamboo and are even working on bottling the pure spring water from surrounding mountains.
The owner Mr. Chen is a man with an eye for detail, an appreciation of craftsmanship and quality, and a respect for nature’s gifts. This is evident in everything from the product quality, packaging, typeface and logo, to the design of his new visitor center currently being built in Wuyuan using recycled building material (evocative of Wang Shu’s Ningbo History Museum)
Today after our morning meeting, we were treated to a delicious home-style feast cooked by his wife and prepared with some of the organic produce, meat and oils from Wuyuan. We are super excited to embark on a working relationship with Song Feng Tsui, and can’t wait to share more about their products soon.
For now, take a look at this gorgeous video (in Chinese) about the production of camellia oil in Wuyuan.