Postcards from Umbria: Nocino
Italians have an inexplicable penchant for bitter digestive liqueurs made with infusions of either curious vegetables (i.e. Cynar, made with artichokes) or a complex mix of herbs and spices (i.e. Fernet Branca, with its top-secret recipe of 27 ingredients). All are guaranteed to put hair on your chest (bartender Logan B. describes drinking Fernet Branca like this: “You shoot it, immediately getting a strong hit of mouthwash – drying the mouth out, stinging the tongue. It’s kind of like getting hit in the nose. Your brain hurts, your eyes sting and water, you cough a bit.” Yum.), but the king of them all is Nocino.
The primary ingredient of this traditional liqueur is unripe green walnuts, infused in alcohol with various other flavourings depending upon the recipe and the region where it is made. Nocino is found all over Italy—made either industrially or at home–but is most popular in the center and north of Italy.
Of all the liqueurs we make at home, Nocino is my favorite, mostly because of the quirky family recipe which has been passed down through the generations:
20 chopped green walnuts, picked from the tree at dawn on the Feast day of St. John the Baptist (24 June) before the dew dries (What’s up with the dew? you ask. See here.)
30 petals of a scarlet rose, dried in the shade
6 whole cloves, crushed
¾ of a cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
the zest of one lemon cut into strips, not grated
Add these all to 1 liter of alchol in a large glass jug, seal it, and place it in the sun for 40 days, making sure to shake it every day.
After 40 days, prepare a sugar syrup with 500 g of sugar and 500 g of water. Add this syrup to the infusion and strain through filter paper.
We think that Nocino improves with age, so tend to keep it bottled for 6 months to a year before drinking it, but that’s the young whippersnapper technique. Our older relatives start drinking it the day after it’s filtered.
And they all have very hairy chests. Cin-cin!
I did it in 2006 and still have a couple of bottles. I bring it out for special occasions and holidays. I open it up and the scent is wonderful. Nocino is a big part of the culture where my family comes from — in Emilia Romagna. Nocello, which is another type of walnut liquor which also has hazlenuts, made in Modena I believe, graced every Christmas table I can remember as a child. We always got a little sip. The Nocino I made is decidedly stronger (I think the hazelnuts mellow the Nocello a great deal), but I think I was upholding tradition by making it. I missed San Giovanni this year, too busy (AGAIN) but I will do it in 2011 and make enough to give to special people.
Nocello sounds good! Nocino is too strong for me, frankly, but I think it’s a taste that you acquire by growing up with it. Perhaps a milder Nocello-style liqueur would be more my thing. Hmmm….
I’m sure we tried this in Italy — I wondered — My husband loved a liquor called Finocello (I think – it was was made from fennel) – do you also have a recipe for that? Or know how we can purchase some?
I have a recipe for a liqueur made with the flowers of wild fennel…do you think it’s the same thing?
Hello… I shall try this recipe and credit you, I’ve never made it with rose petals, it sounds wonderful!! I have a thirty year old walnut walnut tree that was started in Spain and brought to California as a sapling which has been the foundation for the many a gallon of nocino I’ve made over the years. Thank you so much for the recipe and the date as when to pick the walnuts (I forget every year). I know this recipe is a winner!
Gian Banchero, Berkeley, California
Thanks for stopping by and your comments! Let me know how your nocino comes out (a couple of years from now when it’s had a chance to age :))