Creative Sustenance

Culinary and other adventures in foraging, gardening, urban farming and more, in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Walnut Liqueur: Nocino

Ever since I started doing small liqueur experiments a few years ago I've wanted to try to make Nocino, the Italian dark liqueur made from unripened walnuts. Last year our friends Christine and Brian Mittnacht purchased a small farm south of town, on which are a couple of walnut trees. Christine had the exact same thought I did about making nocino, and has three or four bottles in-process right now. Yesterday I stopped out to her place and picked three dozen unripe walnuts for the very same purpose.

I'm picturing a group of us sitting around the campfire after a great meal, everyone with a small bowl of homemade ice cream drizzled with dark, nutty, slightly spicy nocino...or little apéritif glasses of the silky liqueur (after dinner we would call it a digestif, before dinner an apéritif). 

The recipes for nocino you may find are all rather similar. Some use more or less sugar, add or omit certain spices, vary the length of time the liqueur should sit and mellow, and so on. Some also add the spices and sugar right at the beginning while others add them after the green walnuts have steeped for a few weeks. I chose to add the sugar and spices after the initial steeping time (40 days), really only because I found that I had run out of cinnamon sticks (used them up making pickled grapes the other day).

So, here's the nocino recipe I'm using.
Part I:

  • around 3 dozen green, unripe walnuts, washed & quartered
  • zest of 1 lemon - use a vegetable peeler to peel strips from around the lemon
  • 1 bottle vodka (most suggest using a cheap vodka; I say use a decent vodke, one you'd drink on its own) 

1. Place the quartered walnut wedges into a large, sealable jar with the lemon peel strips scattered throughout.

2. Fill with vodka; seal the jar and set it aside somewhere cool to sit for 40 days. Give it a shake or back-&-forth every day. 

Quartering unripe walnuts.

Part II:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 or 6 cloves
  • I may add a tbl or so of honey too, I'm not sure yet

1. Combine the water, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves (and maybe the honey) into a sauce pan and heat to dissolve the sugar and steep the spices. When finished steeping remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves and let the syrup cool.

2. Strain the walnuts and lemon peels from the vodka. Add the cooled spiced sugar syrup to the vodka and now let that sit for another month or so. I understand that the longer it sits the mellower it gets. 

3. After 5 or 6 weeks strain the liqueur to remove any sediment or bits that may be left. I'll likely use my coffee chemex and filters to strain. Bottle and cork it, make a funky label for it, and bring it out for that after dinner ice cream wind-down.

Ready to sit and work its magic. Patience required.

We'll update you again in 40 days. 

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