Anne's Blog

Umbria Hazelnuts: the Heart of the Problem

Date: March 27, 2019 - categories: , , , , , , - 8 Comments

The “heart of the problem” is the hazelnut itself;  ironically, the idiomatic expression “the heart of the problem,” is translated as “il nocciolo del problema” in Italian, i.e., “the hazelnut of the problem.”

A growing movement in Umbria and in nearby Latium is set on blocking the conversion of farm lands to the lucrative (for the land owner) cultivation of hazelnuts. This would be disastrous for the many small farmers who rent land from large land-owners.

Mass cultivation of hazelnuts would alter the varied landscapes of central Italy as woods, shrubs (ah, that yellow broom), and wildflowers  – how to imagine our landscapes without poppies? –  would give way to plowing for hazelnut groves:

And fertilization used in hazelnut mass cultivation – and increased use of water – all underscore il nocciolo del problema or better yet, “il nocciolo problema  (“the hazelnut problem”).

The chocolate industries around the world need hazelnuts (and Italy is second only to Turkey in production). And just consider how many hazelnuts must be in a jar of Nutella, which is becoming ever more popular, not less:

And not just in Nutella but in many of the chocolate bars of the producer, Ferrero:

And not only Ferrero features hazelnuts in many a chocolate temptation, for the buonissimi Venchi chocolates of Piedmont (also a hazelnut-producing region) and Socado (of the Veneto region) also often star hazelnuts:

….as do Belgian chocolates, too:And of course, we in Umbria, savor the goodness of Perugina chocolates (once owned by the Spagnoli family of Perugia, now by Nestle’ in Switzerland). A favorite dark chocolate bar highlights hazelnuts.

Cultivation is destined to increase but a grassroots movement in Umbria and Latium to halt massive monocultura of the hazelnuts has taken off.  In early March, proponents of biodiversity – many of them local farmers with small landholdings or working rented land – met in Orvieto at the all-day event, I Noccioli del Problema,  to learn more about the impact on the land of monoculture.

The mayor of Orvieto opened the morning convegno and speakers included environmentalists and university science professors.  A prime proponent of the project, Alice Rohrwacher, Italian film director (and sister of Alba Rorwacher, noted actress) was a principal organizer of the event (their parents cultivate land not farm from  nearby Lake Bolsena, Latium).

A buffet lunch followed in the atrium of the palazzo, the tasty dishes cooked up by some of the farm families present….

……and after lunch, all headed towards Orvieto’s majestic 13th c Palazzo del Popolo where local farmers sold their goods:

Pino and I roamed the market with our son, Keegan, helping out on the I Noccioli del Problema convention along with his wife, Francesca (who was helping sell the nocciolo bags when this photo was taken):

All the goods for sale were products of small, local farms: honey, olive oils, wines, fresh eggs, vegetables, jams and sauces from their fruit trees, cheeses of their goats and sheep, breads and pies from their wheat and farro:

We have a couple hazelnut trees on our farm land, but we’ll never “monoculture”  our land into a hazelnut grove.  Who’d wish to alter the beauty all around?

Click here for more on Orvieto enticements

Read about a favorite Orvieto eating spot – not far from Palazzo del Popolo

Read more here about Alice Rorhwacher


  • Janet Eidem says:

    All those wonderful products produced by so many handsome good people! I miss the cheeses the most. This is an important blog Annie. Thank you.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Ah, yes, the “small”producer, giving us “farm-to-table” goodness – a joy. And, SI!, Janet, viva the small, local farmer!

  • Frank says:

    What an interesting story. I would never had guessed that the cultivation of hazelnuts would so greatly re-order a land.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    si, Frank / can be a dangerous thing…

  • Bev Oliveri says:

    I hope it never happens but we all know the power of ventures ensuring, perhaps, a stronger income. We are exploiting our beautiful planet and as I read there is no Planet B!

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Bev, yes, big business can be a force threatening our planet. Sigh. Che peccato!

  • Mauro says:

    La terra dell’altopiano dell’Alfina. relativamente a basso costo, e la frammentazione della proprietà rendono attraente l’investimento per una produzione agrucola vendibile in blocco. A.Rohrwacher tempo fa pubblicò una denuncia su La Repubblica indirizzata ai presidenti delle regioni Lazio, Umbria e Toscana. Il presidente della Toscana rispose, in sostanza, che questo è il progresso e che la Rohrwacher aveva nostalgia di una terra in cui vigeva la mezzadria. Confortante che si stia sviluppando un movimento di opposizione.

  • Anne Robichaud says:

    Mauro, so grateful for your insightful comments – most appreciated. Hazelnuts have launched quite a grass roots movement.

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