Do not harvest the hazelnuts. That’s right, in Piemonte you don’t harvest, you gather. A good Piemontese hazelnut farmer would never pick the hazelnuts from the tree.
On our recent visit to one of their hazelnut groves in Cravanzana, Giorgio explained to us how the “harvest” works. When a hazelnut is perfectly ripe, the leaf around the hazelnut (called the mallo) opens up and lets the fruit fall to the ground. Not all hazelnuts do this. The Alta Langa Hazelnut is special because it falls from the tree on its own AND because it comes out of its mallo on its own. This reduces the risk of those dreaded aflatoxins that can sometimes be present in nuts. Other hazelnut varieties stay in their mallo until picked from the trees and therefore can develop more aflatoxins.
In August, after the hazelnuts fall from the trees, Giorgio and his team collect them. After they have been collected, they dry the hazelnuts out in the sun. This step is extremely important because it kills any lingering aflatoxin. How do we know that the sun does this? Every harvest season, Giorgio tests for the presence of aflatoxins and there are always zero. Oh, the pleasures of knowing your farmer!