Hazelnut growing is closely bound up with the geological history of the Langhe, which dates back 30 million years. At one time the deep Tetide or Po Sea created a huge gulf through the Alps. As it gradually withdrew, it left deposits of sandstone alternated with layers of clay. The finest sediments eventually gave rise to the banks of compact bluish marl (tuv in the local dialect) between the Bassa Langa and Tanaro districts of Piedmont.
Geologists have given a scientific name to the tuv – ‘Marne di Sant’Agata’ – breathtaking ravines through which the river Tanaro runs from Bastia to Alba, via Farigliano.
The fine, even, clay soil provides the base for the farming land of the Bassa Langa and the Tanaro Valley. The ‘Marne di Sant’Agata’ are extremely fertile and constitute the geological substratum of the best land for great wine- and hazelnut-growing.
Hence the fortune of Farigliano and its surrounding hamlets, situated between the hills and the valley floor. The marl of the roche, or gulleys, of Naviante and Viaiano have turned this into a hazelnut growing area par excellence.
The Langhe district is the fulcrum of the flora of Alps, Apennines and Mediterranean and the wild hazelnut (corylus avellana) has always been the most common spontaneous tree in the area.
Today, the hazelnut is the second agricultural crop in Farigliano and the Langhe after the vine. Its development has historical, economic and geological roots.
It is important to remember that in the fifties, during the mass exodus from the countryside to the cities, the Langhe district was the scene of a singular compromise between industry and agriculture, in which the figure of the worker-peasant played a key role. It was thus possible to avoid the total abandonment of the land, but, at the same time, the emphasis shifted to the least exigent crops such as the hazelnut.
Yet the miracle would never have been possible without the marly, alluvial soil of the area and the presence among the flora of the ‘Tonda gentile delle Langhe’, the variety universally recognized as the finest in terms of aroma, flavor and capacity to keep.
Guido Gobino, one of Turin’s most celebrated chocolatiers, has a house in Naviante, a hamlet of Farigliano. Here he has managed to bring together a small group of expert producers, who are now collaborating on an innovative traceability project for the products of his Turin workshop, made from pure chocolate what accompanies it best – the hazelnut: from white, milk or plain chocolate bars studded with whole hazelnuts to the classic gianduiotto and hazelnut cream.
Hand-picked hazelnut producers in the hamlets of Naviante and Viaiano di Farigliano have been asked to pay great care and attention to their cultivation methods in accordance with the directives of a special Production Discipline. Then, in collaboration with them, agronomists from the Piedmont Regional Authority go to carry out periodic checks on their hazelnut groves (the geographical locations of which are identified one by one and reproduced precisely in the discipline). As part of the scheme, growers are adopt the most modern, low environmental-impact techniques to fight parasites and improve productivity.
This operation makes it possible to ensure the traceability of the materials used, from planting to processing at the Gobino workshop in Turin. More specifically, 11,000 kg of top quality shelled hazelnuts from the 2002 harvest have been allocated for the production of Guido Gobino’s specialty, the Giandujottino Tourinot Maximo. What is important about the initiative is that this is the first time a chocolate producer has put forward the idea of an ‘identity card’ for his hazelnuts.
Besides devoting such special care to the hazelnuts, Gobino also does the same with chocolate, using only the very finest quality Venezuelan cocoa, which stands out for its sweet aromatic flavor with hints of spices and toasted coffee. For its gianduiotti, the company uses a special extrusion process which allows for a very high percentage of hazelnuts.
The drawing up of the Technical Discipline will lead to a Gianduiotto Tourinot Maximo Certification of Conformity. The triple aim of this will be to raise the profile of a typical Italian specialty, to protect a typical Turin craft product, and to meet consumer demands for quality and security.
The producers who have joined the project are:
Natale Occelli, hazelnut groves in the hamlet of Navigante (600 trees).
Rosa Gaiero, Cascina Piacenza, hazelnut groves in the hamlet of Navigante (950 trees).
Giuseppe Fia, hazelnut groves in the hamlet of Navigante (500 trees).
Giuseppe Ferrero, Località Cascine, hazelnut groves in the hamlet of Viziano (1,600 trees).
Giovanni Ferrero, Cascina Indriotti, hazelnut groves in the hamlet of Viziano (2,100 trees).
Giancarlo Gariglio, a journalist, is a member of the Sloweb editorial staff
Adapted by John Irving