La Tourangelle Hails National Walnut Day
The award-winning company's Berkeley office augments Yolo County orchards, a mill, and more.
All images by Kristan Lawson except cheese-and-can image, which is courtesy La Tourangelle
To honor National Walnut Day last Friday, La Tourangelle Artisan Oils hosted a visit to the orchard and mill near Davis where nuts are grown and roasted to produce the company's Roasted Walnut Oil — which won a coveted sofi Award this spring from the Specialty Food Association.
Conducted via a blind-tasting process by expert judges, this international contest now in its 47th year honors artisanal food and drinks in many categories. Hailing the walnut oil as its original hallmark, La Tourangelle shared with us a recipe that brings out its warm, velvety best.
Walnut oil is a longtime local specialty in France's chateau-flecked Loire Valley, where La Tourangelle's founder Heinz Kohlmeyer acquired two historic mills in 1992. His son Matthieu expanded the business to California in 2002, establishing mills here that employ 150-year-old French traditions — and gradually increasing distribution to over 10,000 stores in Northern California alone.
The company also offers other oils made with avocado, grapeseed, sesame (which also won a sofi Award this year), pumpkin-seed, basil, herbes de Provence, and other ingredients, as well as organic cooking oils such as olive and canola.
Friday's Walnut Day festivities began at La Tourangelle's Berkeley office, then continued down the highway to family-operated Bullseye Farms in Woodland, which uses regenerative management practices such as bee-attracting pollinator hedgerows to grow almonds, pistachios, and walnuts in lush orchards where about 49,000 trees bask in abundant, sometimes-over-100-degrees-Fahrenheit sunshine while soaking up nutrients from dark compost-enriched soil. Discarded nut-shells liberally added to the soil further increase its earthworm population, thus its richness.
"The soil in which trees grow is like our gut: It does their digesting for them," said Bullseye's orchard manager Nick Edsall.
"Acids from the worms' intestinal tracts break it all down for the trees' roots to absorb," Edsall said.
A nutty picnic in the shade of the walnut trees included salads topped with La Tourangelle's new line of organic dressings — including Organic Classic Balsamic, Organic Creamy Ranch, Organic Sesame Tamari, and Organic Citrus Chipotle.
A short drive from the orchard stands the Artisan Mill, where cascades of walnuts are ground into a paste, then toasted over low heat in cast-iron kettles, oveseen by La Tourangelle's master roaster, Shawn Hooker.
"We use the nuts that aren't pretty," Hooker said. "They're much more flavorful."
In his eleven years spent learning this skill from its earliest stages, "you get to know your flavors and you get to know which temperatures will end up creating the perfect oils."
The roasted nut paste then enters a hydraulic press whose pressure reaches up to 400 bars as virgin oil slowly emerges, drip by palest-golden drip.
The oil is then filtered through natural cotton to remove any impurities — leaving behind what the French call torteaux — flat beige cakes of what amounts to nut-flour, to be later repurposed locally as cattle-feed.
The oils are then bottled at a nearby state-of-the-art 63,000-square-foot Woodland warehouse.
And hey, National Hazelnut Day is June 1.