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Nocino (Walnut Liqueur)

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Nocino (Walnut Liqueur)

Rosetta

June 24 is the day when people in Calabria and throughout Italy start the process of making nocino.  June 24 happens to be San Giovanni’s day  (St John’s day) and tradition has it that the green walnuts must be picked on this day to make the best nocino. Nocino is a dark-colored liqueur with a hint of spice, and  is typically served cold. It is considered a digestive in Italy but I like to use it in desserts. I make a walnut cake (the recipe will be in my book) that I serve with a custard sauce flavored with nocino and it is so good! I also drizzle it over ice cream.

I have never made nocino; instead I have always brought it back with me from Calabria. The brand I buy  is made locally in Scalea and has a 35% alcohol content.

I have been talking about making nocino for years but every year I always seem to miss the date of June 24. This year, tho, I remembered. I called my friend Laura, who  happens to have a huge walnut tree on her farm, and asked her if she could pick two dozen green walnuts on June 24 for me.  She brought me 27 walnuts and I used them all, even though I heard once in Calabria that you must use exactly 24 walnuts as it is June 24. I don’t think a couple of extra walnuts will ruin it. I was trained as a scientist, so I figure that the more surface area there is, the more I can extract, right? Or should I be a good Calabrian girl and follow the traditional ritual?

If you are interested in making nocino I am sure that you can still make it in the next couple of days if you can find some green walnuts.  If not, you can wait until next June 24 or if you just want to try the liqueur, you can buy nocino made by Monteverdi Spirits of Napa, California.

The only thing you need to make nocino is a couple dozen of unripe green walnuts...

some spices, and a bottle of Everclear grain alcohol, 151 proof.

I guess you could use vodka but in Italy it is made with grain alcohol and I have always used Everclear to make my limoncello so I decided to do the same for nocino.

You need to cut the walnuts in half lengthwise, and then quarter each half. You will end up with eight pieces.

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the  cutting board.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the spices in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol. I didn't have quite the right size -- my jar is a little too big but it will do.

After 40 days, the liquid  looks dark brown in color.

Filter the dark colored alcohol from the  walnuts and spices and add a cool simple syrup (3 cups sugar dissolved in 1 liter water) to the filtered alcohol.  Put it away for 40 days in a cool place.  After  40 days it is ready to be bottled and stored in a cool place.

The homemade nocino was as good, if not better than the one I brought back from Calabria.

Nocino

Walnut Liquer

For a printable recipe click here

2 dozen or so green walnuts (I used 27)

1 bottle of Everclear (151 proof), 750 ml

Zest of one lemon (unsprayed)

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves

1 vanilla bean, split

4 cups water (1 liter)

3 cups sugar

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the cutting board.

Cut the green walnuts in quarters lengthwise, and then cut each quarter in half. You will end up with eight pieces per walnut.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla bean in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp-type lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol.

After 40 days, the liquid should look dark brown in color.

After this time, make a simple syrup by placing 4 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar in a pan over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled before adding it to the infused alcohol or the liquer will become cloudy.

Filter the alcohol from the green walnuts and spices and add the cool simple syrup to it.  Then put it away in a cool place for another 40 days.

After 40 days, you can bottle it and store it.  It will be perfect for Christmas!

Makes about 2 liters of nocino