Homemade Nocino Walnut Liqueur

CordialWalnut

Instructions for making nocino, a spicy, sweet Italian walnut liqueur, made from green, undeveloped walnuts.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Nocino is an Italian liqueur made with unripe walnuts that are still soft in their green husks. It’s spicy, sweet, and slightly bitter, and delicious served drizzled over vanilla ice cream, or served on its own as an aperitif.

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Finding green walnuts

To make nocino, the first thing you will need to do is source some green walnuts! I’ve never seen green walnuts at any market. It may be easier to find a friend with a walnut tree.

green walnuts

The best time to make nocino is in late May or early June, when the shells have still not yet hardened inside the husks. If you wait too long, the walnuts are too hard to easily cut through and you need to quarter them to make nocino.

Protect your hands and cutting board from walnut stains

Once you have your green walnuts, you’ll want to take care with them as you work with them for this (or any) recipe. Walnuts STAIN like a sharpie permanent marker.

You’ll cut into them and they’ll look pretty and white inside, but green walnuts secrete a juice that will stain anything it touches dark brown—your fingers, your cutting board, your clothing.

So, wear gloves when you cut into the walnuts and handle the cut pieces. Work on a cutting board that you don’t care if it stains. Wear an old t-shirt or clothes or an apron you don’t care about if it gets stained.

making nocino

spices to use for nocino

The recipe comes from our favorite Parisian man-about-town David Lebovitz, from his terrific book, Room For Dessert.

David uses cinnamon, cloves, lemon zest, and vanilla bean as spices for his nocino. I’ve also seen orange zest used instead of lemon. I may try adding star anise as well.

 

Homemade Nocino Walnut Liqueur Recipe

  • Yield: Makes about 1 quart

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

Some people are very sensitive to native black walnuts, so if you use black walnuts instead of English walnuts, be aware of any such allergies if serving to guests.

Recipe published with permission from David Lebovitz's fabulous Room For Dessert. (Great book!)

Ingredients

  • 30 green English 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 Prepare the green walnuts: 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.

3 Store for 6 weeks, shaking daily. As the days go by you will notice that the color of the nocino gets darker and darker.

4 Bottle the nocino: When you are ready to bottle, remove the walnuts and solids with a slotted metal spoon. (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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Links:

The chemistry of nocino and Nocino Walnut Liqueur - from Khymos

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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41 Comments / Reviews

No ImageHomemade Nocino Walnut Liqueur

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Karl

    My Nocino has not really gotten that dark yet. Been in the jar over 3 months. Smells nice. Did I do anything wrong. Can I age it in an oak barrel?

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  2. Tony Miller

    How can I tell what type of walnuts I have in my yard? I made a batch tonight and now i am kinda freaked out after reading below about reactions in some people. I live in Virginia if that helps

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  3. Tony Miller

    My walnuts are dark inside. Are they ok to use?
    Trying to attach photo but will not allow. I can send by email

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  4. Mark

    Question. I made a batch last year that I have tasted a few times throughout the year as it is aging. The liquid is actually as very dark color but with a very noticeable green hue to it. The flavor so far is very medicinal. I have tried noccino in the states and in Italy. I have even had the pleasure of trying homemade noccino in Italy with friends who live there and none of them have had this medicinal flavor. I only used the walnuts, cloves, lemon peel, and cinnamon in my recipe. Do I just need to wait longer?

    Also, this year I found a house down the street with an english walnut tree so I’m going to make another round and see what the difference is.

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  5. Chris

    I want to like it, but the batch we made seems highly toxic. We’d ordered green walnuts from Red Rosa Farms, which turned out to be green Black, not green English like I should have ordered. They’re located in Indiana and I don’t recommend them as they’re snarky and unfortunately list nocino as something to make with these. At bottling, we four adults took a tiny sip and all felt immediately nauseous. Maybe they will turn less toxic after sitting for a year, but I don’t have a way of knowing beforehand if its safe to drink

    I’d try it again with green English, and I’d nix the single anise star I’d put in. It had a too-strong licorice taste to it. So, I’ll give it three stars for my really wanting to like it and wanting to try it again. Minus two for being at this point inedible.

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