Nocciola del Piemonte IGP: the hazelnuts of Piedmont

by Great Italian Chefs12 November 2018

In the UNESCO-protected hills of southeast Piedmont, acres upon acres of hazelnut trees sprout from the ground, shedding a bounty of sweet hazelnuts every year. Find out why the hazelnuts of Piedmont are considered to be the best in the world.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of passionate food-lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy. From Veneto and Lombardy in the north to Calabria and Sicily in the south, we celebrate the very best of this glorious cuisine and try to bring you a little bit of la dolce vita wherever you are.

The world loves hazelnuts – in fact, there’s been a shortage of them for some time now. The majority of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey or in Oregon, USA – these are your bog standard hazelnuts, mostly used to bulk out our insatiable appetite for Nutella – but not all hazelnuts are created equal. If you’re looking for the best hazelnuts in the world, you need to head to the hinterlands of Piedmont.

The area, which lies southeast of Turin between Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria, is already a veritable paradise for foodies – Barolo and Asti are both famous for outstanding Piedmontese wines, Alba is home to some of the best truffles in the world and cheeses like Murazzano, Bra Duro and Robiola di Roccaverano are all made in these foothills. Add Piedmontese hazelnuts – known as Tonda Gentile delle Langhe or Nocciola del Piemonte IGP in Italy – to an already long list, and it’s no wonder that this area, stretching from Langhe to Montferrat, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The soil conditions that make this area perfect for growing grapes are also the reason why Piedmont is home to the world’s best hazelnuts. Piedmont’s indigenous hazelnut trees grow particularly sweet, delicate hazelnuts, but when growers attempted to plant these trees in other parts of the world – notably in the USA – they failed. Eventually American growers had success with a hardier Spanish variant, but although these trees survived the tougher conditions, they didn’t produce the same quality of hazelnut. Currently, Piedmont is the only place on Earth that these trees grow, making this a particularly special and unique part of the world.

The majority of the world’s hazelnuts – grown in bulk – are slightly larger, and often have a slightly woody, tannic bitterness to them. By comparison, Piedmontese hazelnuts are small, intensely sweet and nutty. To protect the quality and reputation of these hazelnuts, the Piedmont Hazelnut Consortium has applied rules for growers to work to – farmers can have no more than 500 hazelnut trees per square hectare, for example. Trees are planted at five-metre intervals, and the hazelnuts must be allowed to ripen and fall to the ground without interference. Once the nuts have been harvested they’re usually dried in the sun before being stored in thin layers.

Piedmontese hazelnuts are used in all sorts of different ways, but they’re particularly suited to sweet things. Turin is the birthplace of gianduia – the original chocolate and hazelnut paste that eventually launched the confectionery giant that is Nutella. Look in the right places and you’ll still find the real deal, made with local hazelnuts. Gianduiotti are common too – the tent-shaped chocolates that combine hazelnut and cocoa.

There’s 'Baci di dama' – or ‘Lady’s kisses’ – which are made of two hazelnut cookies with a dark chocolate filling, and the deliciously simple torta di nocciole, which uses ground hazelnuts as a base for a moist cake. And last but not least, don’t miss out on gelato alla nocciola if you ever visit Piedmont – it may not seem an exciting choice next to a host of more exotic flavours, but a great hazelnut gelato is a very special thing indeed.

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