Peter McDonald's hazelnut orchard is on the wrong continent.

He would have done well to plant its lush canopy in Switzerland, where consumers each eat more than 4.4 pounds of hazelnuts annually. That is 70 times more than the average American, who snacks on less than 1 ounce of the round, aromatic nut per year.

Germany would have been a strategic move, too. There, consumers down about two pounds of hazelnuts, ground into meal and used as flour, giving extra flavor to cakes and breads.

In Italy, children butter their morning toast with Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread, and in France, the nut is often used as the core of chocolate truffles.

"Without even trying, the Europeans eat as many hazelnuts in a few weeks as we do here in a year," said McDonald, who planted his orchard three decades ago in Oregon, at the heart of America's hazelnut belt.

Oregon grows 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop, or about 4 percent of the world crop. But having exhausted their export possibilities, Oregon growers are turning their attention to their largest untapped market: their back yard.

But selling Americans on hazelnuts could be an uphill battle.

"Americans have a very long history with peanuts," said J. Frank McGill, the University of Georgia's distinguished professor of agronomy.

Compared with almost all other nuts and especially the peanut, the hazelnut has done dismally in the United States. In 1965, Americans consumed slightly less than 1 ounce of hazelnuts per person -- a tiny percentage of the 5.4 pounds of peanuts eaten per capita in the form of raw nuts, candy bars, snacks and peanut butter. By 2003, peanut consumption boomed to more than 6 pounds per person, while hazelnut consumption did not budge.

"We drink European wine, we drive European cars, we go there on vacation -- why can't we eat their nuts?" McDonald asked.

Those in the business of marketing hazelnuts point out that Americans do have a soft spot for hazelnut-flavored coffee -- which is popular in the United States but not in Europe, where traditional espresso still rules.

The irony is that the hazelnut additive in coffees is not made from real hazelnuts.

"It's artificial," said Vicki Nesper, marketing director of the Hazelnut Council, based in Jersey City. "But we want to share the knowledge with Americans that if they like it in their coffee, then they might like real hazelnuts in other products as well."

Changing American tastes is only half the battle.

In the past decade, Oregon has lost more than 1,600 acres to the Eastern filbert blight -- a period during which California's almond crop grew by nearly 132,000 acres.

The blight exacerbated a supply-and-demand problem. Unlike other crops, hazelnuts bear fruit in a two-year cycle -- a high-yield year is normally followed by a low yield.

Cereal, chocolate and bread manufacturers that may have taken an interest in Oregon's hazelnuts have been scared off, worried that demand would quickly outstrip the available crop.

But things are changing for the better.

Turkey, the world's No. 1 hazelnut producer, has a marketing agreement with its U.S. competitors in an effort to enter the American market. That is crucial for growers here, because Turkey can pick up the slack when Oregon's crop is low.

Most encouraging of all is the boom in sales of European hazelnut products in the United States. Consider Nutella, which is now available at almost all major grocery chains in the United States. That is a big change from a decade ago, when the only way Americans would see the product was when their jet-set friends brought samples from Europe.

Oregon's hazelnuts are considered among the best in the world, but Americans have favored other nuts.