Words and photos by Anna Pearson*

My very first gelato from Nocciole Piedmonte IGP was unforgettable! Who doesn’t love the roasted Piedmontese hazelnuts that you can now – luckily! – also find outside Italy in good delicatessen shops. They have been an integral part of my kitchen since I discovered them during one of my first visits to Piedmont.

As a slow cook, for me cooking doesn’t start in the kitchen, but on site with good producers, so I wanted to visit one of these producers during my stay in the Langhe where my beloved hazelnuts are grown. During my trip to Dogliani, I realised that most hazelnut plantations are rather dreary monocultures, so this time I wanted to visit a farm that produces according to organic principles.

Through the recommendation of a student of the Università di Scienze Gastronomiche in Bra (better known to many as ‘Slow-Food-Uni’) I learned about ‘Morgana del Re’. On this farm in Rodello, Ilaria Fresia and her parents Roberto and Giuliana produce organic hazelnuts and process them into various specialties.

On a hot August afternoon in the shade of the hazelnut shrubs, I visited the farm and learned interesting things about the cultivation and processing of hazelnuts on a tour of the production rooms. Of course, I had to check the quality of the products in the subsequent tasting!

The first thing I noticed about this particular hazelnut grove was that grass grows here, whereas elsewhere the soil under the shrubs is usually bare. Mowing is done, among other things, with the help of donkeys. In conventional cultivation, having grass under the shrubs is undesirable as it makes the hazelnuts difficult to harvest by machine. But bare soil is an ecological disaster where nothing grows, there is no life and it’s difficult for the soil to hold rainwater.

Roberto, who was leading me through the grove, explained why he also refrains from using pesticides. When he started growing hazelnuts, he had small children, saying “How could I inject poison where my children play?” So, he does by hand what conventional producers use pesticides for: for example, cutting away the unwanted young shoots that grow back on the trunk every year.

During our visit, the hazelnut harvest was imminent. You drop the nuts onto the ground, put them together and let them dry – only then are they storable. At Morgana del Re, drying takes place gently in the sun. Usually, producers dry their hazelnuts with additional heat as it’s faster and you are not dependent on the weather – but valuable nutrients are also lost due to the heat.

The dried hazelnuts are stored in their shell, only immediately before roasting are they cracked and freed from the shell; this guarantees optimal quality. Depending on their size, the nuts can be used for other purposes such as their oil content. With large nuts, the oil content is higher, so they become oil pressed. Medium nuts are sold whole, and small nuts are processed into creams.

In addition to the many roasted hazelnuts I took home from my visit, I also couldn’t resist some pure, unsweetened hazelnut cream, oil from roasted nuts, and a glass of caramelized, cinnamon-rolled, roasted nuts – the latter were gone within a few hours!

With the roasted hazelnuts, I created an autumnal pasta recipe at home: homemade tagliatelle with fried radicchio, gorgonzola, fresh figs and roasted hazelnuts. The full recipe is  here – buon appetito!

Morgana del Re products can be ordered on their  website and purchased on site. The farm can also be visited by appointment.


*Anna Pearson is a designer, cook, cookbook author and publisher. With her publishing company, ‘Edition gut,’ she has published two books in collaboration with her sister, photographer Catherine Pearson: “Zu Tisch.” (2014) and “Pasta” (2018). Both books have won various book awards.

For years Anna has been involved with Slow Food, a global movement that promotes good, clean, and fairly produced food and that everyone has access to. This conviction is in all her projects, as she always wants to inspire a sustainable approach.