The pearls of Tuscia

The hazelnut Tonda Gentile Romana grows in the beautiful area of Viterbo between the mountains Cimini and Volsini. These are the hills between Lake Vico and Lake Bolsena. The area is very fertile. The hazelnut thrives in the volcanic soil around Lake Vico. Experts attribute a very high quality to the Viterbo hazelnut. With its unsaturated fats, this hazelnut makes an excellent nutritional contribution.

Hazelnut project Italy
The province of Viterbo has been the national leader in hazelnut production since the 1990s. The production in the province extends over 30 municipalities. The nuts are also grown in Piedmont and Campania, but Lazio is the largest. In the world market, however, they represent only 10%. Turkey, Georgia and Oregon in the US, for example, are the big players.

I spoke with former journalist Maurizio Bianchini from Nepi about the Lazio hazelnut phenomenon. He told me that many farmers in the region are attracted to it because growing hazelnuts is relatively easy and profitable.

Maurizio: “A few years ago Ferrero (producer of Nutella among others) started a project to intensify production, called ‘Hazelnut project Italy‘. It wants to establish 20,000 hectares of new hazelnut plantations by 2025. This is about 30% more than the current area. Ferrero was and is the largest user of Italian hazelnuts. It needs more and more hazelnuts to meet demand and to reduce its dependence on hazelnut production from (mainly) Turkey. It wants 30% of the hazelnuts used in Nutella to be of Italian origin by 2025. Other confectionery companies are doing the same, such as Loacker (waffles) from Alto Adige and Elah-Dufour (sweets and biscuits) from Piedmont.”

But Maurizio doesn’t think this is right. “Several environmental associations fear that the intensive cultivation of hazelnuts is displacing other crops and creating a monoculture. In addition, hazelnut trees are now being grown on inappropriate soils that require more watering. This is detrimental to our water supply. This situation has already created great divisions between farmers, professional organisations and environmentalists here in the region,” he explains.