Nocino is in all likelihood the most popular and appreciated artisan liqueur, together with limoncello, throughout Italy, especially in the Emilian Apennines. In the Parma-Modena area, it is a family tradition: everyone has their recipe for this lovely walnut liqueur, a ceremony to follow, and competes to see who makes it best.
I’ll tell you right away: this is the original recipe of my elders, aunt, uncle, and grandmother, who inherited it from their parents. It comes from Langhirano in the heart of the Parmesan Apennines and is second to none.
The recipe and ingredients for making nocino at home are no secret. The basics are simple: a liqueur made by infusing walnut husk, sugar, spices, and water. It is nothing exotic, so it is the same as the other great classics, but “some traditions” must be respected. Obviously, you must use alcohol at 96 degrees and not grappa or other distillate. The high alcohol content is essential for extracting tannins, flavors, aromas, and essential oils from the walnut husk.
The timing of the walnut harvest, first of all, canonically takes place on St. John’s Day, June 24, when the walnuts are still covered with green husks.
Because in the end, the essential ingredient is precisely those inedible rinds that cover and protect the walnuts. So the most crucial step in making this liqueur is planning. You will need to find a walnut tree and wait for the right time to stock up on walnut husks.
Spices are optional. They add aromatic volume and charm and play down the earthy and virile tannins of the nocino, creating a mysterious background. Do as you like: if you want a hard and pure nocino, of the tense and spartan ones, add nothing; but if you want to make an excellent walnut liqueur, then you will discover that two simple spices such as cloves and cinnamon can mix and give life to a symphony of unique perfumes.
Ingredients and doses for making nocino (walnut liqueur)
- 30 green walnuts
- 1.5 liters of alcohol at 95 degrees
- 750 grams of sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 10 cloves
- 4 dl of water
How to make nocino (walnut liqueur)
Take a glass container with a lid, put everything inside, close with the cover, shake, and leave for at least 40 days on the terrace. Not in the dark, not in the cellar, but leave it exposed to the elements, to the passing of days, and a small temperature range given by nights.
The temperature control is not necessary. The nocino must suffer, and we do not need to remind you that many masterpieces such as the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena and Reggio, the Vin Santo Toscano, the Port, the Marsala, and the legendary Madeira that traveled all over the globe aboard the vessels, undergo very similar treatment.
Once a day, remember to shake the jar to dissolve the sugar well.
After at least 40 days, shake the nocino well, filter it, and bottle it. This is quite a strong liqueur, at least 40 degrees, and it is not sugary. Let’s say it is very balanced, but you may “correct it” with a drop of water and syrup.
In any case, as soon as it is bottled, it is not ready. It takes at least two, preferably three, months of rest to find the right balance. Many recipes you see on the internet are ridiculous. Saying that it is ready after 10 or even 20 days is a blasphemy that makes your ears and eyes bleed. As the old folks used to say: the more it is there, the tastier it is. After 3 months of rest, taste the nocino and make the necessary corrections according to your taste, directly adding sugar syrup if you want it sweeter.
This is the recipe we give you but remember that there is no original recipe for nocino. Many paths lead to nirvana, and each of them is valid.
Find what you like, whether sweet like watermelon jam or tannic like a doormat; it doesn’t matter: you will be proud of your nocino.
Once it was ready, the old men took it around to all the neighbors to make it taste and strut; today, unfortunately, this homemade pride hubris has been lost.
However, once you have tried a made-to-measure liqueur with little sugar and quality ingredients, you will discover a treasure of Italian liqueurs and never go back.