What is a Piemonte IGP Hazelnut?
Piemonte (Piedmont is a region the northwest of Italy) hazelnuts, much like some productions of wine and cheese, are protected under a classification called an Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or IGP. An IGP, translated to English as Protected Geographical Indication, outlines the region where a food product must be produced in order to obtain the IGP status.
Piemonte IGP Hazelnuts come from the area between Cuneo, Asti, and Alessandria in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. This area is also ripe to produce many types of wine, cheese, and the famous truffles from Alba. The terroir, or natural environmental factors that contribute to a product’s characteristic flavor and aroma, are unique to Piemonte’s hazelnuts. While hazelnuts are grown around the world, hazelnuts in this region are smaller and are denser in both flavor and aroma. These hazelnuts also have a thinner shell that is easier to remove, resulting in higher yields.
Piemonte IGP hazelnuts are obliged to abide by rules drafted in the IGP documents. One such provision is that the hazelnut trees must be given ample space to grow, so producers are restricted to planting no more than 500 trees per hectare, or 10,000 square meters (there is an exception for plots drafted before 1996, but even those ranges are restricted to 650 trees for the same area of land.)
Hazelnuts are harvested in late summer by allowing them to fully ripen on the tree and drop to the ground of their own. There, they are collected and generally allowed to dry naturally. In the case of poor weather, the nuts may be dried with mechanical assistance, but this is thought to have adverse effects on flavor development and is not preferred.
Italian gianduja was first created to sell expensive cocoa that was being rationed. Enterprising confectioners swirled the cocoa with the more plentiful hazelnuts (ground into a paste) and created gianduja, which has now inspired many products on the market today. Piemonte IGP hazelnuts are widely considered to be the premier hazelnut product, commanding high prices for their quality and limited production.