Many beverages we currently enjoy in today’s day and age were commonly developed for their medicinal properties. Nocino, made from unripe green walnuts, is no different. Used during the middle ages, Italian monasteries crafted nocino for its medicinal properties and also as an alcoholic treat.
Falling right after the summer solstice, June 24, also known as John the Baptist Day, is traditionally the day for beginning the transformation of unripe green walnuts into nocino, a deliciously spicy, sticky, and coffee-brown magical elixir.
Historically, the nuts steep in neutral spirits for 40 days, when a spiced simple syrup is added and it’s steeped some more (though I add the sugar at the beginning). The liqueur should be ready by Halloween (see, magic!), but is recommended to age for at least 6 months. And since it will only improve with age, bottle and let it mellow for a decade or longer. You might find it tastes a little like Christmas, and you can wait till then to drink it, but be prepared to enjoy it on a cold evening with a warm fire brewing.
Though there is a basic recipe you can follow, since it’s often homemade, the “traditional” recipe varies from village to village. It’s also available in a commercially bottled version, but more fun to do it yourself each year, changing up the recipe based on your individual preferences.
Serve in tiny glasses after a meal as a dessert digestif or try mixing into your favorite cocktail. For instance, add a small shot into a classic Manhattan for some nutty flavors and added complexity.
For this version, I have chosen to experiment with adding all the ingredients at the beginning, we’ll see how it goes.
2 dozen green walnuts cut in quarters
750 ml of good 80-proof vodka (I used a local Oregon small batch distillery called Vivacity)
Zest of one orange, cut into strips
Zest of one lemon, cut into strips
5 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon dark-roast coffee beans
3 cups of sugar
- Add all ingredients into a large jar and seal.
- Place in a sunny spot for 40 days agitating every 10 days.
- Bring inside and store for another 40 days.
- Strain, bottle, seal and place in a cool dark spot until you’re ready to enjoy (or up to decade).