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Photo story: the story behind the hazelnuts of Piedmont, Italy

The hills just outside Alba, in Italy’s Piedmont region, are striped with green rows of trees and vines. The area is renowned for its wines and white truffles, but the jewel in its crown is the nocciola del Piemonte, a delicate variety of hazelnut.

Photographs By Simon Bajada
Published 22 Sept 2019, 18:00 BST
Nocciole del Piemonte.
Nocciole del Piemonte.
Photograph by Simon Bajada
A cat at Cascina Giardini Agriturismo.
Photograph by Simon Bajada
A hazelnut crostata.
Photograph by Simon Bajada

Cascina Giardini Agriturismo is a hazelnut farm open to guests, with rooms available in its historic farmhouse. This is a family-run operation — Andrea Sottimano uses a blower to arrange the fallen hazelnuts into piles, which his father later collects with his ride-on vacuum sweeper. The harvested nuts are dried on a concrete slab in the garage before being processed, ready to be incorporated into homemade dishes such as apple and hazelnut crostata (a traditional Italian pie) by Rosa, Andrea’s mother.

Andrea Sottimano arranges the fallen hazelnuts into piles.
Photograph by Simon Bajada
Harvested nuts into a trailer.
Photograph by Simon Bajada

Across the region, harvested nuts are piled into trailers and taken away to be dried. In the town of Somano, where hazelnuts are the prime industry, Alberto Quazzo’s family has been growing the nut for four generations — and today, he’s expanding the business. In a refurbished factory, Alberto uses a converted coffee bean roaster to roast single-source hazelnuts, and makes his own chocolates in vintage moulds. Meanwhile, Alberto’s grandmother, Irene, often incorporates the nuts into desserts, including her chocolate and hazelnut pudding.

A converted coffee bean roaster.
Photograph by Simon Bajada
Irene offers chocolate and hazelnut pudding.
Photograph by Simon Bajada

The Confraternita della Nocciola (Brotherhood of Hazelnuts) is a Cortemilia-based group that promotes Piedmont’s prized nut. Members including Giacomo Ferreri are heavily involved in organising the Sagra della Nocciola IGP Piemonte, an international hazelnut festival. Among the activities on offer are blind tastings of hazelnuts from around the world — with Piedmont’s offering usually topping the tables. 

Giacomo Ferreri.
Photograph by Simon Bajada
Hazelnut-studded treats.
Photograph by Simon Bajada

The Sagra della Nocciola IGP Piemonte festival also features multi-course feasts served by waiters in traditional costume and attended by hundreds. The menu is, naturally, geared towards the ingredient of the hour, with dishes such as pasta in hazelnut sauce on offer. Visitors can also stock up on hazelnut-studded treats, including cakes, biscuits and nougat. A number of the events are held at the Confraternita della Nocciola headquarters, where the walls are lined with certificates, flags, diplomas and testimonials. This is mission control for the Piedmont hazelnut.

Photograph by Simon Bajada

Published in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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