Protein from plants is a hot topic as more and more of us are choosing to avoid meat and animal products. As a result, nuts have become increasingly important as a cooking ingredient. As recently as the last century, nuts were rarely used in savoury dishes in Switzerland. We’re all familiar with Waldorf salad – a mix of celery, apple and walnuts. Other than that, however, walnuts and hazelnuts were mainly only used in baking.
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine plant-based cuisine without nuts. In summer, for example, roasted hazelnuts go beautifully in salads made with lightly roasted courgettes. And in winter, lightly caramelized, chopped nuts make a wonderful addition to bitter leaves such as red chicory. Nuts not only give dishes a wonderful flavour, but depending on the variety they also add texture and crunch.
The fact that nuts are increasingly in demand is also reflected in the range of products offered by local farms. Meanwhile, several local farmers are focusing on hazelnuts – Gauch’s organic farm in Niederwil, Canton Aargau, for example. Farmer Andreas Gauch has become something of a hazelnut pioneer in Switzerland. He planted his hazelnut trees ten years ago. He has observed increasing interest in his home-grown nuts, for a variety of reasons. “On the one hand, we have customers who simply want to snack on good-quality roasted nuts”, he says. “On the other, there are many – especially the younger generation – who are keen to move away from the sweet association and use them more in savoury dishes”, says Gauch. Nuts are proving especially popular in stores that sell items in bulk.
So what’s the difference between home-grown and imported hazelnuts? Andreas Gauch has plenty to say on this topic. “Generally speaking, nuts grown locally always taste better”, he says. He was amazed as he began to realize this.
Also, as a Swiss farmer, he’s able to offer better quality because of the shorter distances and processing methods. “We only crack or roast the nuts once our supplies are exhausted”, he explains. If nuts spend a long time in transit once cracked, they lose their flavour. So, anyone who enjoys cooking with regional ingredients would do well to choose Swiss nuts. Andreas Gauch sells his nuts in his farm shop and in the unpackaged stores Foifi and Zollfrei in Zurich.