Nocino is a dark brown Italian liqueur made with unripe walnuts using maceration method (infusion). It has a very rich bittersweet flavor. It’s usually 40% ABV. It is believed that the first recipe was invented in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Nocino is not a brand or a protected trademark. In 1978 an association was founded in Spilamberto with a sole purpose of preserving ancient traditions of making this drink and also popularizing it. Nevertheless, Italian manufacturers were unable to secure the nocino name.
In villages of northern Italy, almost every household makes this liqueur. Although, there is no universal recipe. Using green walnuts is all that matters. No one is stopping you from adding any spices: cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmegs, juniper berries, orange or lemon peel, etc.
Signature ink color. Some variations of this liqueur can be brown—it all depends on the additives and walnut infusion time
Many nocino enthusiasts are certain that modern commercialized versions of this liqueur have veered too far away from the initial variant: manufacturers decrease the maceration time, add artificial coloring and flavoring agents. That’s why only Italian farmers will let you try real nocino.
It hasn’t been accurately established under what circumstances nocino had been found. Moreover, it is not an original Italian invention—liqueurs from walnuts are well-known in many countries. For example, there are records which date back to the Roman conquest of Britan and show that even Picts tribes, which inhabited Scottland, had been making a very similar drink in the middle of summer. According to another opinion, this liqueur traveled to Italy from France where it was called “liquer de brou de noix”.
Walnuts were always considered somewhat “magical” as they were associated with witchcraft and magic. It was believed that only the wisest women or sorceresses should gather green walnuts during the Bonfires of Saint John celebrated on the evening of 23 June. On this day gatherers climbed barefoot on trees and gently picked only the best green walnuts.
On the next day, these walnuts were poured over with alcohol and infused till All Saints’ Eve (October 31). Using metallic tools was prohibited because it was thought that metal undermined healing properties of the drink.
Classic Recipe for Nocino
Nocino can be made only with green walnuts gathered in early summer. Nuts should be soft enough to be easily pierced with a pin. The inner part should be gelatinous. It’s important not to miss the right harvest time which only lasts a few days. This time period is called “balsamic time.” Too unripe walnuts are bitter, and overripe walnuts will give out an unpleasant woody taste.
- Unripe walnuts – 1 kilos (about 29-35 walnuts)
- Grape moonshine (vodka, cognac) – 1 liter
- Sugar – 700-900 grams (to taste)
- Spices (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, juniper) to taste
An odd number of walnuts is used traditionally.
Base alcohol is 40-85% ABV depending on the desired ABV of the final product. During infusion, the alcohol concentration will be reduced by half. It is critical not to overdo with spices so that they don’t mute the aroma of young nuts.
- Cut each walnut into 4 pieces. Put all of the pieces along with cores in a glass container for infusion.
Since walnuts leave obstinate stains, all actions should be performed wearing old clothes and medical gloves.
- Add sugar and spices. Cap the container, shake a few times and leave in a sunlit place for 4 days.
- Pour in the base alcohol, stir, and seal. Then leave the container in a place with room temperature.
- Infuse for at least 2-3 months (5-6 months is better) in a sunlit place. Shaking once a day for the first two months is preferred.
- Strain the obtained decoction through cheesecloth and slightly squeeze the walnut pulp. Filter through cotton wool or a coffee filter.
- Bottle nocino using dark glass bottles and seal them. Add some sugar if you prefer a sweeter drink.
Nocino can be stored for up to 5 years.
How to Drink Nocino
Nocino is good for digestion, that’s why it’s often served as a digestive (after the main course). This liqueur is drunk neat cooled to 16-18 °C for 30-60 ml shot glasses without a chaser. However, this drink creates a good gastronomic pair with hard Italian cheeses and ice cream.
Nocino combines perfectly with ice cream and strong coffee
Espresso can be washed down with a shot of nocino (such combination is called “caffe corretto”). Nocino is also used for cooking, replacing vanilla extract in baking (for example, in biskotti).
Cocktails with Nocino
Midnight Manhattan (aka Walnut Old Fashioned). Mix nocino with bourbon in a 1:2 ratio, add a few drops of orange bitters. Serve with ice and garnish with a cocktail cherry.
Raincoat. Mix equal portions of nocino and bourbon, add one bar spoon of almond syrup. Serve in a chilled martini glass.
The Italian Sidecar. Mix one part of Cointreau, one part of lemon juice, two parts of nocino, three parts of bourbon. Garnish with a lemon wedge.