Fontanabuona Valley Garden Hazelnut

Ark of taste
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The Garden Hazelnut is a traditional cultivar found in the Fontanabuona Valley in inland Genoa, in northwestern Italy. The shrub-like, medium height trees develop quickly with erect branches and smooth gray bark. Their flowers produce a good amount of pollen. The relatively heavy nuts are rounded and slightly elongated, and the nuts are can be removed from their shells easily. Hazelnut growing in the province of Genoa is an ancient tradition found, for the most part, in the Sturla, Fontanabuona and Graveglia Valleys and nearby areas, where trees are grown on terraces. The local hazelnuts are used in many sweets and to make hazelnut sauce, which is creamy and has a delicate flavor ideal for use in serving ravioli and other types of pasta. There are also traditional crafts connected with the cultivation of hazelnuts, for example in Val Carnella in the municipality of Mezzanego, where traditional strings or necklaces of hazelnuts are made. The cultivation of garden hazelnuts in this inland area has long represented a typical part of the local culture, together with chestnut cultivation, and has been practiced since at least late medieval times. The first written documentation of hazelnut cultivation in the area is, in fact, part of a series of notary acts belonging to Chiavari’s notorial archive collection, composed of entries from the 15th century. The importance of hazelnut production to the local economy of Chiavari is well documented from other sources dating back to the 1800s. A pamphlet form 1853 focuses on the cultivation of hazelnuts ‘that gives prosperity to the town of Mezzanego and, in part, to San Colombano,’ adding and affirming ‘there is perhaps no more useful and profitable crop in the Province than this.’ By the 1950s, in the inland Chiavari area hazelnuts had in part replaced chestnut production, with chestnut crops being drastically reduced due to various plant diseases such as cancro colorato (the fungus Ceratocystis fimbriata) and il mal dell’inchiostro (a fungus of the Phytophthora genus). Today, garden hazelnuts can be purchased directly from producers in the area. Garden hazelnuts are just one of the variety of nuts that may disappear from the area due to the slow but continual decline of hazelnut cultivation in the area due to changes in the organization of companies (with property being fractioned into smaller portions and little or no generational replacement within family businesses) and due to the low monetary returns from the product.

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