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Truffle lover sees huge potential in Yunnan

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-31 09:26
A truffle auction dinner in Beijing on Aug 12 combines with a mushroom feast.[Photo by Li Yingxue/China Daily]

Hua Lifu was not sure if the first truffle auction dinner in China would be held as scheduled until one week before it was due to take place.

In early August, his team dug up two tuber melanosporum in Australia that both weighed more than 300 grams. That made the dinner happen.

On the night of Aug 12, Hua brought the two truffles to the auction dinner at Feast restaurant in Beijing.

"For top-level truffle, when you open the cover of its container, its fragrance will fill the room," says Hua, founder of Mr Truffle, who presented his fungal find to the diners.

Auctioneer Zhang Xiaohan hosted the sale during the dinner.

After many rounds of bidding, Zhang banged the gavel with the two truffles fetching 8,000 yuan ($1,173) and 10,000 yuan.

Chefs at Feast prepared a special vegetarian truffle dinner for the guests and a sommelier paired each dish with vintage wines.

At the same time, Hua shared his knowledge of truffles with the diners.

"Many have the impression that truffles from Yunnan province can be cooked with chicken soup, while the ones from France have to be eaten raw," says Hua.

"Actually, truffles have to be eaten at a temperature under 60 C. That's why we slice them and use them in hot dishes, which brings out their fragrance."

Truffle is typically paired with Western food, and Hua observes that in China, truffle has yet to find a good pairing.

"Chinese style and Western style are just different cooking methods. The key is the taste, and the five senses are the same for everyone.

"Last year, I tried Chinese-style sea eel topped with truffle. When I tasted it, I could smell the truffle and taste the eel at the same time. It was incredible."

According to Hua, there are three steps to follow when selecting a truffle - touch, smell and observation.

"Too soft means the truffle is rotting, and too hard is also not good, and the smell is also important," says Hua.

"The last step is to watch the cuts, as the good ones have clear patterns."

According to Hua, there are 96 smells for truffle including earthy, nutty, spicy, floral and fruity.

Hua notes that the aroma is like a flash. "Once you smell it you will just want to put it in your mouth even though you have just eaten a meal."

As for Hua's plans, the man who co-founded a company in Yunnan making truffle products last year aims to take high quality Chinese truffle to the world.

"I want people to know that in China we have people in the truffle business, and that we are capable of doing this."

Hua, 29, who studied in Australia before returning to China in 2015, spent almost all his spare time abroad learning about truffles from his tutor, who is one of the top truffle specialists in Australia.

Hua launched his truffle business in Yunnan because he thought he could find high quality truffles there

"Truffles thrive in a specific environment, temperature and humidity. In Yunnan you can find these conditions," says Hua.

"Last year we sold 75 kilograms of truffles for between 5,000 and 8,000 yuan per kg, but it came from 15 tons of wild truffles we collected," says Hua, who is now educating villagers on how to collect truffles and process them.

For now, the truffles Hua's team collect is made into truffle products such as salt, oil and even truffle wine. They also make customized truffle products for restaurants in China such as Din Tai Fung.

Hua plans to grow his own truffles in the future.

He believes it may take around 10 years to get a full harvest.

"Farming truffles needs time, and I'm ready," he says.


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