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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.

Green walnuts ready to be harvested for 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.

Make sure you wear gloves when chopping...this innocuous looking fruit will turn your hands black for weeks. Take my word for it.

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!

The last few vintages of our Nocino

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