When it comes to Italian liqueurs, limoncello is for sure the most famous abroad. But most locals will tell you that a homemade nocino (i.e. Italian walnut liqueur) is the best way to end a traditional meal.
Typical of most of the Appennines, nocino is the hidden Italian gem among all the amari, something that almost every family has its own recipe for. Here I want to share with you the authentic, traditional recipe for homemade Italian walnut liqueur, as learned from friends in the mountains between Bologna and Modena.
What is nocino?
Walnut liqueur, or nocino, is a liqueur made from green walnuts. Green walnuts are, simply put, unripe walnuts, that are harvested mid-end of June. (Note: of course, this is in Italian climate and geographical position. E.g., I assume that my readers from Australia will have to harvest them at Christmas time).
In Italy, it is very common everywhere near the Apennine Mountains. The recipe I am sharing comes from the mountains near Modena.
History and folklore about walnut liqueur
My first contact with nocino comes from Zocca, a small village near Modena. Here, at Verucchia Sanctuary, a community of friars is busy with many activities, including the production of an amazing walnut liqueur. (Fun fact: they sell also grappa bottles with a viper inside…).
Every year my father used to buy some of their nocino and since then I have always considered this one of our best kept secrets.
Lots of folklore live around this liqueur. The most famous one is about the correct procedure to harvest the unripe walnuts.
The most expert lady should be the one to harvest the walnuts, during the night before San Giovanni (Saint John), celebrated June 24th. She will use only her hands to perform the task and leave the green walnuts in the open air until the morning when the preparation will start. The preparation will end at All Saints’ Eve (Halloween) and the nocino will be first served at Christmas.
How to serve nocino
Nocino is the perfect digestif after a heavy meal from Emilia Romagna, full of pork meat. Tagliatelle or lasagne al ragù, tigelle and crescentine, a nice tiramisù and then a shot of nocino… pure heaven.
Usually served plain, I prefer it at room temperature, to better taste all the flavors. Some like it from the fridge. I recommend avoiding ice.
How to make Italian walnut liqueur at home
Preparing your nocino at home is actually very easy. All you need is patience and the right recipe. You need to help yourself with the former, I am here to assist you with the latter! And, of course, a large glass jar, like this one:
To be sure you will find it when you need it, you can pin this recipe here:
Learn how to make Italian walnut liqueur (nocino) at home!
- a large glass jar
- a chopping board
- oven paper or similar
- a sharp knife
- a funnel
- a coffee filter or some thick cotton tissue
- 35 green walnuts harvested on June 24th (Northern emisphere)
- 1 liter pure grain alcohol
- 750 gr sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon (optional)
- 4-5 cloves (optional)
- On June 24th (in Italy), harvest the young walnuts. Clean them and cut each of them in 4 pieces. Be aware that green walnuts stinks are forever, so behave accordingly. I personally use some oven paper to cover the chopping board and wear old clothes.
- Put all the cut walnuts in a large glass jar and cover them with the sugar. Seal the jar. Leave the jar in full sunlight for 2 days.
- After 2 days, open the jar: you will find that sugar has melted into a dark liquid.
- Get the cinnamon stick and the cloves ready. This my quantity (optional) for 1 liter alcohol.
- Drop the spices and pour the alcohol into the jar. Leave the jar, sealed, near a window, for at least 2 months, ideally 3-4. I usually go for 90-95 days. It's important to shake it from time to time and that the jar receives some sunlight every day for a few hours.
- After this long rest, it's time to filter your precious nocino! Using a funnel and a coffee filter (and some patience… yes, this liqueur is all about patience!) remove all the liquid from the jar.
- Nocino will be better after at least one month in the bottles. Traditionally, the production started in June was tasted for Christmas! Personally, I find it already great after 2-3 weeks in the bottles. Enjoy!
- PS at the end, only the walnuts, now completely black, will remain in the jar. Do you think that Italian tradition will throw them away? Not at all! But this is the end of this recipe.. and the beginning of a new one. Coming soon 😉
What can I do with the macerated walnuts?
Every time I have made nocino at home, at the end it was a pity to throw all the macerated walnuts away.
But last year, a dear friend of mine from Abruzzo gave me the pro tip I was looking for! He told me about nociato, or vino di nocino (i.e. nocino wine). In this post I share with you how to make a wonderful vermouth with exhausted walnuts.
I know you will love this nocino… and if you liked this post, leave a comment and help me supporting this project.
And if Italian liquors are a passion for you, why not impress your friends with something they will have never tasted? Because this rucolino is prepared only in Ischia, and nowhere else!
Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase you will help this blog grow. I only promote affiliate programs that I believe in, and products I know about, with the aim to help you in your choices.