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Nocino - green walnut liqueur

Last night I picked a green walnut from a tree around the block and remembered that I had been wanting to learn more about nocino. Googled it and found it is traditionally started on June 24th in honor of San Giovanni. As usual a day late..... Anyone made it? I've never tasted nocino so would appreciate detailed description of flavor, color, etc. before I raid the tree.

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  1. Nocino is hard to describe, delicious but hard to put into words how so. I've tried a couple different recipes and my favourite so far starts with vodka and aromatics (juniper, spices, etc.), which are later filtered out and a small ratio of red wine is added. This then sits for quite a while; between the green walnuts and the juniper you need to give it a while to mellow, like a year. Really, some recipes will say less time is needed but, if you taste it in six months and it's akin to lighter fluid, keep waiting. The transformation will come, and you'll have something very unique and hard to find done well in this country. Where do you live? Zuni in San Francisco has a nice one on their dessert wine list. Let me know if you need help finding a more exact recipe. I googled to find mine, and then came up with a combo recipe.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rabaja

      There seem to be (at least) two variations, one involving red wine, one not. And the spices vary considerably. Would you be willing to share your recipe? Well, I live in Napa so I can and will make the pilgrimage to Zuni, or JV.

      1. re: Junie D

        The stuff with red wine is the French version called vin de noix. The stuff made with grain alcohol and/or vodka is the Italian nocino.

        I made both this year. I think I prefer the vin de noix but the nocino from a year ago is starting to get good.

        1. re: rainey

          Yes, I'm finding the nocino is best after AT LEAST a year, maybe two.

    2. My recipe comes from a friend in a town near Parma's mother. I've made it seven or eight years. I published it in my newsletter The Curmudgeon's Home Companion in 1998. It adjusts for the fact that we can only get 50% alcohol (100 proof) and they are getting about 98% alcohol by reducing the amount of local fizzy wine. However I feel in California green walnuts at the end of May are closer to right because sometimes by June 24 the shell under the skin is aready hardening.

      Nocino della Nonna Emilia

      25 green walnuts, about the size of home-grown apricots, according to Nonna Emilia
      3 cloves
      1 stick cinnamon
      peel of 1 lemon (yellow part only; the white pith is too bitter)
      1.25 liter of vodka, 100 proof
      3 cups sugar
      1⁄4 liter of cheap sparkling wine (I used Tott’s)
      1. Soak the walnuts overnight to draw out any worms and other impurities.
      2. Quarter them and put them into a large jar with all other ingredients. Place in a sunny spot, sealed, for at least 40 days; 2 months is better. Shake every few days.
      3. Strain and bottle the liquid. Let it sit for another month or two, minimum. At that point it’s drinkable, but if you can, put a few bottles away to age. After two or three years it really becomes something special.
      Note: Thrifty Italians make a second, less potent liqueur by adding 2 cups of alcohol, a cup of sugar, and a bottle of cheap sparkling wine to the solids you filter out of the nocino. Let the mixture stand another couple of months, shaking occasionally. Drink unceremoniously.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Curmudgeon

        Many thanks. I missed the recipe as I have only been a subscriber/president of your fan club since 2000 or 2001. I think I have to try it because I can't wait till next May, can't resist Nonna Emilia, could cut through the shell of my experimental walnut easily with a paring knife. Plus I have a $5 bottle of drinkable cava in the fridge.

        1. re: Junie D

          Thanks, I'm waiting for my fans to reproduce themselves. I do know that some people put a juniper branch in the jar, but Nonna Emilia didn't. I like the flavor a lot, but sweet liquors are not too popular right now. When I moved I lost my easy access to green walnuts, but I think I have enough bottled to last me a long time. The best way to describe this is that it has the aroma of Christmas.

          1. re: Curmudgeon

            One child here - I'll have to work on other people's kids. Started the nocino last night. My fingertips are brown from cutting the walnuts and I am already shocked by the intense green of the liquid. The smell of the walnuts I would describe as 'green' like pine but much more subtle. They smelled good. So I can see why you say nocino has the aroma of Christmas, especially with the cinnamon, lemon and cloves.

            The sides of walnut quarters floating above the liquid are turning black. Inevitable? Also, will it grow mold sitting in the sun for weeks? I'm betting the alcohol will prevent that but there is a lot of sugar and I once made this moldy raspberry-infused liqueur....

            1. re: Junie D

              I am searching my Westchester, NY neighborhood for walnut trees. I really want to try making nocino.

              I wonder if the aging in the sun idea is necessary or even very good? Personally I would age it cool and dark, and let it age much longer to slowly develop the flavors.

              The reasoning is probably to provide warmth to so the alcohol extracts more flavor faster. BUT, in general, light and heat definitely deteriorate flavors, and colors can be bleached. I have seen and tasted bottles of vibrantly colored liqueurs that sat in the sun of a window display at a wine shop for one-two weeks be completely bleached pale or creamy white and get a nasty flavor. I assume this is from UV degradation and enzyme reactions.

              I did some recipe searches on nocino and there were just as many that said to age it in a dark place, and some said cool and others warm.

              Almost all the recipes I have ever seen for other liqueurs and cordials say to keep in a cool, dark place. Dark to prevent UV effects, and cool to slow down flavor absorption, because higher temps can cause off and bitter flavors.

              I wonder what the flavor difference would be if you split a batch in half and did one in a dark, room temp place vs. the warm, sunlit place? UV bleaching doesn't seem to be much of an issue since the liqueur is very dark, maybe it would have more color to it besides looking like used motor oil?

              I do know that commercial nocino makers age it in cool, dark, places in oak barrels for four to six months before filtering and then age it another six to eight months to slowly develop the flavors. After at least a total of one year aging it is then bottled.

              1. re: Junie D

                Sorry, I was working on the newsletter. The nocino will all turn a dark brown eventually. It sometimes gets yellower first. Seems like magic. Shake it up occasionally--like once a week. I really have come to love that smell of the green walnuts.
                No, I meant reproduce in terms of recruit more subscribers.
                BTW I have about 50 recipes from my grandparents 3 liqueur distilleries before WWII. So if you ever need a recipe for Enzian (Edelweiss Liqueur) or something very odd let me know. Most of them are 95% alcohol wich has aromatic roots or whatever sit in it for 24 hours.

                1. re: Curmudgeon

                  Hello,
                  I have an excess of 95% alcohol and free time. I would love to tryout some of your grandparents' recipes. Where were their distilleries located?
                  Thank you,
                  Shawn

          2. re: Curmudgeon

            That sparkling wine is pretty eccentric. Italian recipes usually include only walnuts, pure alcohol (Everclear), sugar, lemon zest, cloves, sometimes other spices, and water.

          3. David Lebovitz has a simple formula for nocino in his book Room for Dessert, as well as a great-sounding recipe for nocino custard.

            Sorry- too lazy to type it!

            1. There's a thread on Nocino at the Home Cooking board. It's probably too late for this year but Jim Haag at

              www.Walnuts.US

              sold me ten pounds of green walnuts which are steeping in 4.5 liters of 100-proof Smirnoff. They've been there for 5 weeks; come Friday I'll pour off the liquid and add flavorings. My recipe calls for cinnamon, 20 coffee beans (!), and 750 ml. of red wine reduced with sugar to make a syrup; the mixture gets another 3 weeks' aging after adding these. So in about 4 weeks I'll either have 5 liters (more or less) of yummy Nocino, or something I can use to kill trout in the Sacramento River... nah, just kidding.

              1. I'm in Seattle, and the nuts on our tree are small apricot sized, but I just cut into one, and the nut hasn't formed yet, just a clear liquid where the nut will be, and no hard shell forming yet. Should I wait until these are a little more mature to make the liqueur? What is the optimal stage of walnut development?

                Thanks.

                1 Reply
                1. re: babette feasts

                  Hm. The ones I got from Haag were about the size and color of limes and were firm all the way through. You could email him for information--I don't know about the actual growth process.