Right time for chestnuts!
Ask anyone in Turkey which city is the leading producer for chestnuts; a quick guess would be Bursa. Well, it is true that the city is renowned for its delicate candied chestnuts, but they get most of their chestnuts from elsewhere. A second guess would be Kastamonu, where gorgeous chestnuts grow, and the province is known for its wildly flavored bitter chestnut honey. But still it is not the right answer. The leading chestnut grower in the whole country is Aydın in the Aegean region, which makes the province also one of the leading producers in the world. Aydın, on the other hand, is mostly known for its amazing figs, which has been historically reputed as Smyrna figs, because it was where the dried figs were shipped to the world.
Now, finally, the Aydın chestnut has recognition. It has recently been registered in the geographical indication list of the European Union. With this reference, Aydın will not only be known for its famous figs, but hopefully also with its chestnuts. Previously, the Aydın chestnut had a national geographical indication certificate, but to be honest, it did not bring much fame to the chestnut. That went unnoticed by the general public. But, of course, Aydın chestnuts were much praised by the candied chestnut makers of Bursa, who knew how to find the best to make their delicate dainty “marrons glacés.” On the other hand, the Kastamonu chestnut is well known, just as I’m writing these lines, the street vendor is yelling under my window promoting his chestnuts of Kastamonu origin. Interestingly, there have been no attempts so far to have Kastamonu chestnuts registered.
Aydın chestnuts are the fourth product from Turkey that is listed in the EU Geographical Indication list, after Malatya apricots, Aydın figs and the baklava of Gaziantep. Chestnut trees best thrive in humid and sunny terrains, and Aydın seems to provide the best conditions together with other Aegean provinces such as İzmir and Manisa. The reason why Aydın chestnuts are a favorite of Bursa’s “Marron Glacé” makers is they are bigger in size with a good dense starchy texture, but moreover, they are easily peeled, both the shell, and the inner skin, with the penetration of the skin to the flesh of the seed being considerably less. Anyone who has attempted to peel chestnuts knows the difference, if the inner skin goes deep into the seed; it is impossible to have an intact whole fruit transferred into a beautiful candied morsel of delight. Now, at this point, how shall we know that we have the right one?
Again, thanks to Metro Cash & Carry, it is easy now for Turkish customers, and also increasingly for European customers. Metro Group Turkey branch has long been supporting products with Geographical Indication, and has insistently promoted GI-Labels in their Cash & Carry outlets. Moreover, their Metro Gastro Magazine, one of the leading food and culture quarterly magazines in Turkey, has always given emphasis to local products. Editor Nilhan Aras has always been a powerhouse in promoting GI products, reserving a special dossier to certain fruits and vegetables at each issue, with the contribution of distinguished food writers. Chestnut was one of them in the recent fall issue.
And that is not all. Metro established Gastronometro in 2015, Turkey’s first gastronomic innovation platform, aiming at training and research and development activities, pursuing the mission of building bridges to connect the national chefs with the international gastronomic world. Gastronometro brings Turkish chefs together with the international gastronomy world and collaborates with important schools and platforms of the sector. Gastronometro director chef Max Thomae, who has been living in Turkey for years, and being very knowledgeable about the products of the country, seeks the ways to develop new uses for these products. Within the course of the recent five years, they succeeded to develop 2,500 new products, that will help to contribute to the development of Turkish cuisine.
Metro Turkey’s newly appointed CEO Sinem Türüng said: “As Metro Turkey, we strongly continue our works with the aim to protect Turkish cuisine and its values and transfer them to future generations for 30 years. While working relentlessly with the aim of doing ‘the best’ for Turkey with our suppliers, producers, customers and employees, we also invest to uncover the broad potential the Turkish cuisine possesses. We deem gastronomy as one of the most important values that will contribute to many fields in our country, from economy to tourism.”
Spot on! The producers in Aydın do hope that this GI recognition will make a significant contribution to the promotion of their chestnuts around the world and open the door to new markets. Luckily, the chestnuts will be available in branches in Germany. Just before the Christmas season it is just the right time for chestnuts, not just to roast, but also to make wonderful desserts, or nibble a morsel of skillfully crafted candied chestnut. Another way to savor chestnuts could be in savory dishes, to toss in rice or bulgur pilafs, or tuck one into wrapped cabbage dolmas just like the Ottomans did. Note that it was always in the court kitchen, like Fatih the Conqueror enjoyed his bulgur pilaf studded with lots of boiled chestnuts. The customers in Turkey can also taste the newly developed Anatolia bread by chef Thomae, featuring all GI fruits and nuts of the country. I must admit it is almost like a Stollen when toasted and spread heavily with velvety butter. It must well be the right time for Aydın chestnuts to get the recognition they deserved for so long.