Chocolate and Hazelnuts
Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 8 Aug 2022
A Marriage Made in Heavenly Piedmont
Towards the end of August and into September the region of Piedmont sees the harvesting of its precious hazelnuts. This is a region already world-famous for its wines and exquisite white truffles, but the Tonda Gentile delle Langhe or Nocciola del Piemonte IGP to give the Italian name, is another hugely important crop in this UNESCO World Heritage listed landscape. These indigenous hazelnut trees grow small but particularly sweet, delicate nuts. To protect their quality the Piedmont Hazelnut Consortium has established rules – for example farmers can have no more than 500 hazelnut trees per square hectare, and the trees must be planted at five-metre intervals. The hazelnuts must be allowed to ripen and fall to the ground without human interference, and once the nuts have been gathered up they are usually dried in the sun before being stored in thin layers. As well as their delicious flavour, Piedmont's hazelnuts have proven health benefits, offering high levels of antioxidents and contributing to maintaining low cholesterol.
One of Italy's most popular confections is known as Gianduia (pronounced jan-DOO-yah) and is a blend of chocolate and hazelnuts. Turin became the birthplace of this delicacy back in the 1860s, as a direct result of cocoa rationing in the turbulent years of the Napoleonic wars and increasing import taxes on certain goods including cocoa beans. Legend has it that the resourceful Pier Paul Caffarel (the founder of Caffarel chocolates), began trying chocolate recipes using higher quantities of local ingredients to save money, including the famous Piedmont hazelnuts and, happily for us, Gianduia was born. Sometimes written as Gianduja, the unusual name was taken from a character in the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, a popular form of theatre in Italy, Gianduia being an honest Piemontese country peasant.
The classic spread (which inspired today's commercially produced Nutella) is made after hazelnuts have been toasted to release their aroma and then ground into a fine powder, and combined with melted chocolate and sugar. Traditionally, at least 30% of the final product must be made of hazelnuts. As well as the spread, it is used today in many recipes for cakes, biscuits or even icecream. Another speciality of Turin which you can't miss if you spend time in the city are the Gianduiotti chocolates shaped liked ingots. They are usually individually wrapped in gold or silver foil and also combine the delicious flavours of chocolate and Piedmont hazelnuts. If you'd like to have a go at making the spread yourself, then our chef friend Caroline Barty has a recipe
Our Best of the Italian Alps and Jewels of Piedmont tours both start and finish in the lovely city of Turin so, if you're joining us, give yourself an extra day to explore these culinary treats! On our Jewels of Piedmont tour we also visit a chocolatier in the charming town of Cherasco.