Oregon Hazelnuts: Nearly as Good as Their Italian Cousins

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I've been increasingly prone to consuming large quantities of the hazelnuts we're getting from the folks at Freddy Guys in the small, Central Oregon town of Monmouth. I haven't always been the biggest hazelnut eater; I've probably always kind of enjoyed them but ... I just never have used them in huge quantities. But that's changed in the last few months. I love what we're getting from these Guys (sorry, couldn't resist). Freddy Guys is a family-run farm. Fritz and Barb Foulke lead the work. They're growing an old variety called Barcelona (which would explain I guess why some of the other hazelnuts I really like are from Catalonia). The trees were brought from Spain first to the East Coast, best I can tell, in the 19th century. Although they didn't really thrive there, eventually some were loaded on wagons and hauled out west. Wild hazelnuts had grown there for many centuries, but the first cultivated trees in Oregon came up the coast with one Felix Gillet in 1871.

I've been eating them a LOT; they're good for you and they're really good, and they go with most anything other than I guess a nut allergy.

The climate in Oregon is, apparently, very similar to that of the Piedmont in northern Italy, which I, and others, would generally say, in terms of name recognition for high quality, is kind of like world headquarters for hazelnuts (it's certainly the homeland of gianduia—check out the one we have in from Guido Gobbino in Turin). Oregon would be akin to the North American office; it produces by far the most of any state in the U.S., and about twice as many tons a year as the Piedmont. (If you care, Turkey actually grows by far the highest quantity of hazelnuts of any country.)

All the Freddy Guys nuts are roasted to order—when we get them they're literally only about a week or so out of the small Italian roasting machine that the Foulkes have on the farm. They're sold simple as can be. No salt, no oil, no nothing. Just great nuts. I've been eating them a LOT; they're good for you and they're really good, and they go with most anything other than I guess a nut allergy. Chop and put 'em onto fresh-cut fruit, gelato, cake, or cookies. Salads, pastas, or if you're getting into more complex cooking, they'd be great in a Catalan picada, ground-up along with fresh garlic and really good olive oil. If you want simple, stick 'em in your bag and take 'em on the plane.

Oh yeah . . . the name. "Freddy Guys." I looked all over their website but failed to find it so I finally called Barb to inquire about its origin. It's a good thing I actually asked—all assumptions I'd come up with were completely incorrect. It's not the name of anyone in the family, it's not an old hazelnut variety, it's not the name of the roaster, it's not a town, and it's not an old Wild West hero from the days of the Oregon frontier. What it is . . . is basically Hawaiian patois. That's right. Hawaiian. "Freddy," it turns out, is Fritz Foulke's nickname. When he was a kid, his parents took part in a program that brought Hawaiians to the mainland to study. And every summer since—for the last 55 years—the Foulke family has hosted some Hawaiian students. "Guy"—I guess you could say it's Hawaiian patois for "significant other." Barb, laughed as she told me the story (which I've sure she's told 6,000 times by now) and said, "So, see, I'm 'Freddy's guy.' That's what they all call me." There you go. The secret Hawaiian influence on the traditional Oregon hazelnuts. Main thing is that they taste really great!

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Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.
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