Hazelnut Kale Pesto ##Photo provided


An everyday Oregon luxury 

By Annelise Kelly

Hazelnuts have been a signature Oregon ingredient for decades, embraced for flavor and versatility. They’re a perfect complement to many of the state’s culinary treasures, from salmon to Dungeness crab, Marionberries to morels.

Chef Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro in Albany recalls his early restaurant days in Michigan. “They were a luxury nut there. I was trained by European guys; hazelnuts were held up as the gold standard.” When he moved to Oregon in 1994, he was shocked at the quality and availability of our nuts. “Their versatility is staggering. When you toast them and draw the nuances of flavor out, they’re just fantastic.”

The first hazelnut tree in Oregon was planted in 1858 by a retired Hudson’s Bay Company employee. Dorris Ranch in Springfield was the first commercial orchard, planted in 1903. It’s now a public park and living-history farm, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Oregon remains a global player in the industry, producing about 90% of the U.S. crop, which ranks fourth after Turkey, Italy and Azerbaijan.

“The geographic conditions in the Willamette Valley are perfect,” said Matthew Gillespie, marketing and innovation manager of Oregon Orchard and Hazelnut Growers of Oregon. “Between the coast and the mountain range and the river, those three factors really help the soil conditions for growing hazelnuts.”

He also says the industry is booming. “It took about 30 years to double from numbers in the 1970s. From around 2017 to now, it’s doubled, and we see it doubling again within the next five years.”

His group seized the opportunity, introducing a variety of packaged hazelnuts, including savory seasoned and chocolate-covered nuts, as well as holiday flavors. They’re for sale at some winery tasting rooms. Check out the Oregon Hazelnut Marketplace; their new retail store just off I-5 between Portland and Salem, where their two-ounce single-serving bags will soon join their other products.

Chef Bennett appreciates the crunch hazelnuts contribute to wintertime casseroles. “Like cassoulet — in parts of France, they drizzle it with walnut oil, but try that with hazelnut oil. It makes it a really rich dish, just adds another layer of flavor.” He likes to top pasta with toasted crushed hazelnuts, “it really makes it pop and shine, makes it more Oregon.” Bennett also adds hazelnuts to salmon or steelhead for a pleasing texture. Another favorite combination: Pears, Rogue blue cheese and hazelnuts.

On the sweet side, Bennet says, “It’s hard to beat hazelnut and chocolate; that one just writes itself. Our signature dessert is Chocolate Hazelnut Cake.” This item, which customers have trained him to keep on the menu, starts with flourless chocolate cake, whole hazelnuts layered with hazelnut crème brûlée, dark chocolate mousse and black chocolate glaze, garnished with chopped roasted hazelnuts.

His preferred hazelnut-wine pairing is after dinner: a simple pound cake with hazelnuts served with dessert wine, such as those offered by Sineann in St. Paul “because there’s already kind of a toasted nut note, kind of caramel-like, to the wines.” Bennett recommends substituting Freddy Guys roasted hazelnut oil for olive oil in gelato and cake. That oil is on his “short list of favorite products in the state,” and one of his go-to gifts for out-of-town visitors.

Fred and Karen Wickman, co-owners of the historic Prospect Hotel in Southern Oregon, welcome many overseas visitors on their way to Crater Lake, and have embraced their role as hazelnut ambassadors. “Visitors want to know what’s local, in produce and wine and beer,” Karen explained. “We purchase around 100 pounds each year from Freddy Guys Hazelnut Farm in Monmouth.”

On the breakfast menu, nuts play a part in dishes like Hazelberry Pancakes — with hazelnuts and local wild blackberry compote — and Whole-Wheat French Toast Crème Brûlée. Find them on the dessert menu in hazelnut cakes, pies and cookie bars. “We pair after-dinner wines with our desserts,” Fred said. “Our really popular Wild Blackberry Cobbler with Hazelnut Crust, just absolutely delicious with a nice late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Valley View Winery. It’s lively, crisp, [has] nice acidity [and is] well-balanced.”

Their exclusively Southern Oregon wine list provides welcome matches with savory dishes. Karen advises the Crostini with Morels in White Cream Sauce pairs nicely with Chardonnay or Viognier, and Stuffed Pork Loin with Hazelnut Crust flourishes with reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc.

Aaron Silverman relies on Oregon’s abundance of hazelnuts to finish the pork sold under his Tails and Trotters label in Portland. A regional charcuterie sampling experience at a Slow Food event in Italy brought home the impact of feed and breed on final products. Inspired by the celebrated pigs finished on acorns in Italy, he returned to the States excited to try it. However, Oregon’s drought-adapted oak trees don’t deliver crops each year, so he turned his sights to hazelnuts. Each year, the operation buys more than 100,000 pounds, a mix of kernels, whole nuts and shells from a Newberg packer.

By strategically placing the pigs on a finishing diet at the optimal time, “the nuts provide chemistry to stabilize fat, from saturated to unsaturated, harder to softer, like from butter to olive oil. The omega-six goes up, and the omega-three goes down, just like in grass-fed beef.” He says cooks will notice how the fat renders at a lower temperature but with greater clarity. “There’s a mouthfeel to our fat that is different: distinct, velvety, smooth, not greasy and a sweetness to the meat.”

Tails and Trotters pigs begin their finishing program when typical commodity pork heads to the slaughterhouse. With two to three additional months on a hazelnut diet, they gain about 100 pounds — a size better suited to prosciutto production, which is what inspired Silverman in the first place. Silverman says their pork is NOT the other white meat. “It goes really well with reds because it has distinct flavor that will stand on its own.”


Hazelnut Kale Pesto

Recipe by Oregon Orchard/Hazelnut Growers of Oregon


½ cup Parmesan cheese

½ cup kale, washed and torn from ribs

½ cup hazelnuts

½ cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, roasted

* juice of 1 lemon

* salt, to taste


1. Blend hazelnuts and garlic in a food processor until it forms loose paste. Add kale, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Blend for 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down sides; blend again. 2. Adjust seasonings and serve.


Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese with Hazelnut Crust

Recipe by Matt Bennett, Sybaris Bistro, Albany

Chef’s note: This is an impressive “date dish.” It is very fast to prepare, and it looks and tastes great. Serves 2.


2 whole Dungeness crabs, cooked and picked (reserve ½ pound of meat for this dish and retain and clean both large body shells)

½ pound penne, boiled until not quite al dente, cooled

1 pint heavy cream

¼ cup parmesan, grated

½ cup grated white cheddar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ pound Dungeness crab meat

* salt and Tabasco, to taste

½ cup hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and crushed fine


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  2. In 2-quart saucepan on high heat, bring cream to a boil. As soon as cream boils, add pasta. Bring back up to a boil and stir in cheeses and mustard. Bring back to a boil and add crab meat. Remove from heat. Correct with salt and Tabasco. 3. Place crab shells on baking sheet. Carefully fill with pasta mixture. Top with hazelnuts. Bake until bubbly. Serve right away. Note: For a less dramatic (and less expensive) presentation; omit shells and bake pasta in a casserole.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable