Hazelnut (la nocciola), next to grapes, plays a significant role in local agriculture. Italy takes the second place (after Turkey) in global production of this fruit, and Piedmont hazelnut groves provide 8-9% of total Italian cultivation (of which 85% comes from Langhe). Other important regions on the this fruit production are Lazio, Sicily and Campania.
The Langhe region is not only famous for the quantity of its cultivation, but also for the quality, because of a precious variety called la nocciola tonda gentile della langhe IGP (IGP stands for protected geographical indication). It’s valued for (almost) perfect round (tonda = round) shape and big fruits which makes it suitable for confectionery industry.
It’s just enough to mention world-famous Nutella that, in fact, originated in Langhe and has started a global success of sweets producer: Ferrero. In 1946 Pietro Ferrero, the owner of small pasticceria (confectioner’s shop) in Alba, created a new product, based on cocoa and hazelnuts, a special spread eaten with a slice of bread. At that time there were very high taxes on imported cacao seed and Italian confectioners needed to use local raw materials. At the beginning it was called Pasta Giandujot, then in 1951 became Supercrema. But it was his son, Michele Ferrero, to prepare a new recipe (valid till today), to rename it and to promote as. Nowadays Ferrero produces many famous delicacies including Ferrero Rocher, Raffaello, Mon Cheri, Kinder series or Tic Tac.
Of course Nutella is not the only Piedmont sweet “invention” and Sagra della Nocciola was the perfect place to see and taste them all.
Sagra della Nociola, annual Hazelnut Fair, took place in Cortemilia, the capital of Alta Langa, between 17th and 26th of August. Tourists and local citizens participated in different events, like classical music concert, Latino dance show, fireworks show and colorful parades. I managed to get there on last Sunday, equipped with camera and a big dose of curiosity…
In the narrow streets of the old town, local confectioners prepared little stands and encouraged passerby to try (and to buy :)) their goods. It was a perfect opportunity to see all the varieties of hazelnut cake (torta di nocciole) – which is simple round cake, quite thin, tender and according to traditional recipe made exclusive with roasted and processed hazelnuts, eggs and sugar. Of course there were also different types of delicious cookies: my favorite brutti e buoni (not good looking, but very tasty!), noccioletti, but also Nutella-like spreads, and even grissini with small pieces of hazelnuts inside. Additionally, you could find a lot of stands with typical Langhe cheeses (murazzano, robiola – both made of sheep milk), local made salumi, wines, and even black truffles (summer type). Probably nobody left Cortemilia hungry…
Alta Langa is famous also for autochthonous cow race – la razza bovina piemontese. From its milk local people make traditional cheeses (bra, castelmagno, raschera), and its high quality meat (leaner and much tender than in case of other races) is used to prepare delicious typical dishes like carne cruda battuta al coltello (seasoned fine chopped raw meat), for instance. What’s interesting, the Slow Food has grouped its breeders into one organization “La Granda” which oblige them to follow common guidelines and all of them are obliged to follow common guidelines. One regards feeding – cows get only natural fodder and they are growing with natural way.
But coming back to the event. The scale of this project (at least on Sunday) was adjusted to the place, meaning not too big. Cortemilia counts about 2500 citizens, it is situated 28 km far from Alba (traveling serpentine and landscape roads), about 100 km from Turin and 60 km from Savona. The Bormida river divides little town into Borgo San Michele and Borgo San Pantaleo. The narrow streets, porticos and remains of the fortifications, destroyed by Spanish in 1635, defining Cortemilia. The housing vines terracing is characteristic element of local landscape and in the past used for vegetable, fruits or grape cultivation. Since 1000 dry-stone walls terracing enabled rural activity – in particular, in case of downhill above 25-30% there was no another alternative/it was the only chance. More info you can get visiting Ecomuseum dei terrazzamenti e della vite (http://www.ecomuseodeiterrazzamenti.it/).
I left Cortemilia with full belly (which wasn’t helpful on winding roads…) and with a bunch of hazelnuts in a pocket taken from one of many filled jute sacks available that day for everybody.