Nocino

Recently I hosted several Sacramento area food bloggers over for a potluck. Late in the afternoon, after most of the guests had left and the die hards remained, I pulled out some nocino, a spicy, sweet, slightly bitter walnut liqueur that I made a couple years ago to share with the group. The recipe comes from our favorite Parisian man-about-town David Lebovitz, from his terrific book, Room For Dessert. David recommends using nocino to flavor custards, or to pour over vanilla ice cream. We had ours straight. To any other group of my friends, tasting homemade nocino would be a novelty at best. To this group, it was an inspiration. A few friends looked around the yard and noticed that our walnut trees had plenty of perfectly young green walnuts on them. A few minutes later, one group was off to the store to buy a gallon of vodka. The other group was on ladders picking the young walnuts within reach. In short order, our kitchen was filled with cooks, chopping walnuts, parsing out sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and other ingredients to different glass canning jars. A nocino party! One of the guests even noticed churro remnants on the kitchen ceiling (that’s another story) and knocked them down.

Regarding nocino. It’s an Italian liqueur made with unripe walnuts, still soft in their green husks. The time to make nocino is in late May, early June, when the shells have still not yet hardened. I’ve never seen green walnuts at any market, easier to find a friend with a walnut tree. You can also make green walnut pickles with the nuts, and even vin de noix or walnut wine.

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Nocino Recipe

  • Yield: Makes about 1 quart.

The juice from the walnuts will permanently stain anything it touches, so you might want to wear gloves while cutting them. Wash down the cutting board as soon as you are done cutting the walnuts.

Ingredients

nocino-1.jpg

  • 30 green English walnuts (do not use American black walnuts), early enough in the season so that they are easily cut with a knife
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1-inch piece of vanilla bean
  • Zest of one lemon, cut into strips using a vegetable peeler
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 liter vodka

Other recipes I've found use orange peel instead of lemon, use spices such as mace, or include grappa. The next time I make nocino I may try the orange peel and even add a little star anise.

Method

1 Rinse and pat dry the walnuts. Cut them into quarters with a sharp chef's knife or cleaver. Be careful as you are cutting them; if you've waited too late in the season to pick them, their shells may have begun to harden and cutting through them may be a little dicey. Watch your fingers.

2 Put walnuts, spices, zest, sugar, and vodka into a large glass container. The vodka should cover the walnuts. Cover and shake to mix well. Store for 6 weeks, shaking daily. As the days go by you will notice that the color of the nocino gets darker and darker.

nocino-2.jpg nocino-3.jpg

3 When you are ready to bottle, remove the walnuts and solids with a slotted metal spoon. (Again be careful where you do this as the walnuts and the nocino will stain.) Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth into glass bottles. (I've seen recipes that call for straining the liquid through coffee filters which I think would work fine too.) Cork tightly. According to David, nocino will last for several years if stored in a cool, dry place. The nocino will initially be rather bitter, but it will mellow over time. It's best at least a year after it was first bottled.

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Recipe published with permission from David Lebovitz's fabulous Room For Dessert. (Great book to own if you can get your hands on a copy.)

Links:
Making nocino - photo by Garrett of the work in progress
Andrea's notes on the nocino making process
Vin de Noix from Kitchen Notebook
The chemistry of nocino and Nocino Walnut Liqueur - from Khymos
Homemade nocino from Calabria from Scratch

16 Comments

  1. Garrett

    Damn, this stuff is so good. I may raid your tree for more walnuts so I can make some bottles for Christmas!

  2. TA Sullivan

    Will black walnuts work or do you recommend another variety?

    We used English walnuts because I live in an area that used to be a walnut orchard, and commercial walnuts are English walnuts. I haven’t tried this with black walnuts, but I assume it would work. ~Elise

  3. Kathy

    OMG, I just read the Churro essay. Hilarious!

    The liqueur sounds WONDERFUL! I’ll trade you for a bottle of homemade wine!

    We don’t have walnut trees in Florida; do you think pecans will work?

    Worth a try. Let us know how it turns out if you make it. :-) ~Elise

  4. Paul

    I have a black walnut tree here on the farm that, years ago, provided walnuts annually to a friend of the previous owner. He made a walnut liqueur that was crystal clear – and delicious. When he died, so did the recipe and I haven’t thought of that walnut liqueur in years.

    The tree still stands and, as for the walnuts, they’ve only been something to make noises when the car runs over them. Now I know what I can do!

    My kind of kitchen fun, Elise. Thanks!

  5. Dragon

    The only liqueur I’ve made is limoncello. This one looks really interesting. I don’t know of any local suppliers of green walnuts. Do you know of any online where I could order some? I think my dad would love this.

    No idea. I think this is one of those you gotta know someone with a walnut tree. ~Elise

  6. Doug

    We live in the Canadian prairies where there are no Walnut trees. I wondered if roasted walnuts would impart a flavor comparable to the unripened walnut. Your Nocino recipe reminded me that we often will put 2 or 3 cups of dried cherries in a large glass jar, fill it with vodka, and put it in the sun for a few days. Makes a wonderful cherry Kajafa type of drink.

  7. Rorik Melberg

    I am going to give this recipe a shot. For those of you without a walnut supply: I searched on the web for Green Walnuts and came up with Haag Farms at http://www.walnuts.us/ was $34 for 6 pounds (about 60 walnuts, or two batches worth) including shipping. Was really fast and easy to use. (not affiliated, just a happy customer)

    The walnuts arrived today (3 day shipping) and although I am not a walnut expert, they seem to be what I want. Getting ready to start chopping them up now.

  8. Sam

    What type of “cloves” are you using?

    Dried cloves. If there is another kind, I don’t know of it. ~Elise

  9. Tiffany

    I’m allergic to cinnamon. Is there another spice you’d recommend as a substitute?

    What do you usually use instead of cinnamon? Allspice? I recommend using whatever spices you would normally use when making this substitution in other recipes. ~Elise

  10. Jen

    Great! I love that people are doing this it…We made 5 gallons last year and it was amazing. I was told you have to harvest on June 23 and use an uneven number of nuts!
    I make mine a bit differently. We steep the nuts sugar and spices (i add coffee beans) in the sun for 3 months and then strain add simple syrup and steep one monthe more.
    It was very complex and great with chocolate.
    I am just about to write a story for The Seceret Eating Socitey fall issue magazine…check it out.

  11. Marjorie

    Great post Elise! I made two batches of this last weekend; one with black walnuts, the other with english. I used orange zest instead of lemon for the black walnut batch and added a bit of allspice for good measure. The english batch I followed your recipe to the tee. Will let you know how they turn out in a couple of months. Any other recipes for home made liqueur would be greatly appreciated if you have them; I am a big fan of making my own concoctions, such as Mulberry liqueur, which is less fuss then Mulberry wine. Keep up the great site!

  12. marjorie

    Hi Elise. The batch that I made is indeed getting darker with each passing day. It has a rather interesting deep green hue to it – the same green color that you get when you mix the dyes together when dying easter eggs. Is this the normal color, or should I be worried? Thanks for your input.

    Hi Marjorie – sounds perfect! That’s just the color it is, almost black with a greenish hue, which I think may turn brownish over time. ~Elise

  13. Viv

    Wow we have 6 huge walnut trees so I am looking forward to trying this recipe come spring. I have tried pickling green walnuts but the recipe I used was not a success, so will have to try that avenue again as well.

  14. bethh

    I’m two years late to this party, but today two different coworkers delivered green walnuts into my hot little hands. I have both English and black walnuts, so I’m going to make separate-but-parallel batches. It’ll be interesting to see if they are different in any noticeable way!

  15. Robinson

    Does the quality of vodka matter or can I use any old rotgut?

    Great question. I have been told that it doesn’t really matter. I usually find an inexpensive brand when I make this. ~Elise

  16. infinity

    originally for nocino Italians use grappa used.

    Years back, while I was still living in the Italian part of Switzerland I received whole bunch of green walnuts accompanied with a recipe for nocino. It was given to me by a Swiss-French Chef.
    At that time I did not have grappa, only Sake, it has worked out well too , but grappa would be a prefered choice.

    I would say quality of any ingredient in the composition counts.

    Try to build a castle on a clay foundation.

    here is another “NOCINO MODENESE”
    http://www.ordinedelnocinomodenese.it/ricette/Noc_ordine.pdf

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