Even before she bought Hazelnut Hill with her husband two years ago, Rachel Henderson enjoyed making artisan chocolate.
After the former owners, Rob and Sally Hilles, retired from Hazelnut Hill in 2014 and closed the company, Henderson said a friend told her that she should buy the business and make candy with the hazelnuts.
“A couple years ago I took a class on how to make artisan chocolate, temper chocolate by hand, make different fillings, and make it pretty,” she said. “It evolved from there.”
Henderson buys the hazelnuts from Thistledown Farms, where her husband is co-owner. The hazelnuts are taken from there to a dryer, and then Henderson buys them back to roast, candy, and package them.
The facility is located in Eugene on 90785 Link Road.
Their products include: hazelnut candy and chocolate, spreads, mixes, and the nuts themselves.
When Henderson bought part of Chocolate Dependence after it went out of business, she received the recipe for their chocolate flavored buttons, as well as their Oregon molds, which she has also incorporated in their merchandise.
Henderson said her favorite candy to make is toffee because it’s the most challenging. At the Oregon Chocolate Festival last year she recieved an award for her toffee.
Hazelnut Hill has multiple plans for expansion, including adding product lines, moving into grocery stores, and becoming self-sustaining.
“Down the road we want to try to get our own nutcracker, so we can cut out the middleman,” she said. “The ultimate goal is not having anyone else involved in the process.”
Along with growing her own hazelnuts, Henderson wants to explore using different varieties of nuts; however, she wants to buy new equipment first, to prevent cross contamination of the nuts for people with allergies.
The most common hazelnut varieties that Henderson uses in her candies are Sacajawea and Lewis.
“(Sacajawea) is phenomenal,” she said, “ and they are all grown around here. There are lots of varieties, but there are some better quality and newer varieties that do well in our roaster and candies.”
She compares the quality to the chocolate as well. She said that they use fair trade chocolate, and try to source local ingredients.
“We could use Hershey’s, it’d keep our cost lower, but it’s not as great a quality,” she said. “Same with the nuts; it’s a quality issue.”
Hazelnut Hill products can be found at their website www.hazelnuthill.com, or at Camas Country Mill, Thistledown Farm and Peoria Road Farm Market.
Henderson said there were some initial challenges starting out with the City, learning new recipes, and finding a work flow.
“It’s a big building and we thought we needed it that way, but it’s actually easier if everything is closer together,” she said. “I roast nuts here and have to walk it over the to package them. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s how do you get them over there.”
The business is run by Henderson and her husband, Ryan, with Henderson’s parents volunteering as “helpers and cheerleaders.” Henderson said she couldn’t do it without their help.
Hazelnut Hill has been featured at many events in the area. On April 20, the company will be tabling at Lavelle Vineyard’s Cherry Blossom Festival, which they were invited to attend.
“It’s fun to get out there,” Henderson said. “To network and meet a lot of different people who are supportive and helpful, it’s been really fun.”
She described it as a community, and said that Camas County Mill was their biggest supporter from the start.
“They used to be next door to us,” she said. “They helped us set up our equipment in the most efficient way. It was so cool.”
For Henderson, the most rewarding aspect is turning out a good product.
“We’re locally owned and operated,” she said. “I mean, come on, it’s the Oregon State nut we’re dealing with.”