We want you to see with our eyes and come on a journey with us. Not an easy task, we get it: let us try. Ready?
We met Gian Franco at Cerretto Langhe on a lovely Friday afternoon: the sun was up in the sky, the colours slightly changing, getting ready for sunset. He is the owner of Altalanga, and drove us among the hills where award winning Barolo is grown and made. The scenery is breathtaking. Grapes till the eye can see, almost ripe for the most exciting time of year.
The town - Cerretto Langhe - is a cute little one, 687m above sea level, less than 500 people. One street drives right through, an old church, old cobblestones everywhere. Crisp air, regardless the warm temperature. We put our luggage down in a small bed and breakfast, and carry on with our plan for the afternoon.
It is the hazelnuts we are interested in, we want to see where they grow, the processes involved, what happens when they leave their trees and get ready for us.
We like to know everything about our suppliers, in the same way we want to know about their produce. Ever wondered what it is like to be a hazelnut? Probably not till now. Weird? Maybe. Oh well, it is not a bad life you know. It involves a good dose of contemplation, resisting the cold and the snowy winter, the hail, the wind, the scorching sun and then, letting go in hot summer day. Not bad at all.
The hazel groves is a very special place: it speaks of a fairy tale. Especially with the sun rays coming right through. The perfect spot to read Alice in Wonderland, having a picnic, tell stories and rest after a busy week, don't you think?
Yes, Gian Franco walking through his trees.
It takes about 10 days to collect all the hazelnuts from their trees. There is no human intervention per say, we must wait for nature to do its job. Hoping in the good weather of course. Summer thunderstorms and hail can ruin an entire year of patient work, not much you can do there. But when the sun comes right back out, well that's a show you don't want to miss.
What happens after the hazelnuts fall from the tree? They get pulled in a lane and wait, some sort of traffic control. There is a machine that brush them vigorously from the ground, to clean whatever dirt is within them. Leaves, branches, all out. It's like being in a NASA centrifuge, only smaller.
From the brushing machine they get transferred to another that cleans them even further. No residues left at the end of this process. Then, our favourite part: they all make a short journey to a porch. An old, cobblestone porch, in front of the house where Gian Franco was born and raised, still the family house. And there they dry up, under the summer sun. Kind of poetic, don't you think?
There is a reason why they have the sun drying up the hazelnuts, naturally. Machinery tend to warm up the inside of the nut too quickly, causing it to release oil. This also means that all the goodness remains where it's supposed to be, and no nutrients are lost in the drying process. Very important.
After a day sun bathing, they get collected and taken to a facility where the process is completed, and get ready to come to you. In a jar, in a box. Coated with sugar, or chocolate. Or in a truffle. You pick!
We hope the images of our journey helped to describe what we had the pleasure to witness. So for next year, do you wanna join us? It shouldn't take too long to convince you, right?