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History and origins of hazelnut Oil

The first evidence of the origins of hazelnut oil dates back to the Bronze Age. In the region known as Gallia Cisalpina, which also includes the current Piedmont, hazelnut oil was the main source of edible fat due to the generous oleic intake and the easy availability of the fruit. From the artifacts found in some archaeological excavations it was possible to understand the method originally used for its extraction: hazelnut oil was obtained by surfacing from hazelnuts reduced in paste through rudimentary stone millstones.

Then, between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, thanks also to the little spread of olive oil in Piedmont, hazelnut oil was widely used in traditional recipes of Piedmontese cuisine, but its most recent history is that which brings us back to the Second World War with the introduction of the ration card.

In January 1940 the Italians were provided with a nominative document, the ration card precisely, to be used for the purchase of edibles in pre-established days and quantities. The ongoing war, in fact, would have prevented supplies across the Mediterranean, so as to make food rationing necessary. Sugar, coffee and cocoa were immediately limited, but soon, and in the months immediately following, rationing affected practically all kinds suitable to satisfy the needs of the individual… soap and clothes included. Among these, particular attention was paid to fats: it was made compulsory for producers and traders to declare the quantities produced and sold, granting 500 g per person per month.

At the same time, the obligation to store agricultural products was imposed: that is to say, their supply at a price imposed on the warehouses controlled by the regime. This desperate war scenario, made even more burdensome for an agricultural reality already severely tried, was decisive for the reappearance of hazelnut oil.

Ingenuity and intelligence did the rest! So it was that the most enterprising Piedmontese farmers, strictly at night and away from prying eyes, covered their needs for food fats by extracting oil from the hazelnuts with artisan small presses.

The poor dishes available on their table were so flavored with this precious vegetable oil. It is therefore not surprising that traditional Piedmontese dishes such as Alba raw meat, Ravioli del Plin or Bagna Cauda, to name just a few, in their most faithful preparation, require an oil as Piedmontese as the hazelnut oil.

Unchanged over millennia, from distant origins, it remains today a precious ally in the kitchen, as a condiment for vegetables, cheeses, soups and legume or cereal soups, raw meats, fish carpaccio, fruit and desserts. In addition to food use, thanks to its properties, hazelnut oil is nowadays widely used in the medical and cosmetic fields.

 

Hazelnut Oil... the real story!

">"... At that time the country life was not easy, it is perhaps better than in the city. Anyway, we earned our bread by the sweat of our brow. Thankfully, we are not complaining, we have never lacked anything, but all was handmade: the care of the vines, the cultivation of the fields, the harvests. The cow was our only help, in addition, gave us that little bit of milk to drink and calf. Then the war came and the things have become even more difficult. During threshing, a state officer was to check how much grain we threshed and collected it for storage; for us it was still a small amount. We were trying to sell the wine: we used an inferior one, mixed with a bit 'of water used to rinse the barrels. It was also difficult to buy the products, even if we had a lot of money. The oil that we could buy with state card was just not enough. So I remember in the night we put the sheets on the windows, and to have a little 'of hazelnut oil more, we pressed all night: during the day we could not because someone might see us. So with that torch, arranged by relatives who worked in the railways, but I don’t remember where it came, we did the hazelnut oil. We pressed hazelnuts once, rest and then we left again to press. Then we crumbled those already crushed and again in the press to pull off even that little bit of hazelnut oil was left. The hazelnuts that remained, we didn't threw, it was maybe a cake or eat it roasted."

(from a story by "Grandma" Egle Penasso)