Nocino is a traditional Italian walnut liqueur. It's pronounced no-chee-no and has a deep, rich, earthy flavor and an almost chocolaty aroma. This is my favorite way to use the native black walnuts in my yard, and you can too! You can make your own at home with only 5 ingredients - green walnuts, sugar, orange peel, thyme, and grain alcohol.
This recipe takes several months to create the perfect nocino, but it's one of those projects you don't have to think much about once you get started.
What is Nocino?
Nocino is a traditional Italian liqueur. The word "nocino" comes from the Latin word nocere, meaning "to hurt," which refers to its astringent nature. Nocino is made from unripe green walnuts, sugar, and alcohol.
It's often flavored with coffee beans, cinnamon or anise seeds but can also be left unsweetened and served as an after-dinner digestif. I have been using last year's nocino not only as a digestif but also as a swap-in for vanilla extract.
Here is a nocino recipe that makes a delicious liqueur with foraged ingredients! Here's what you will need:
Young Black Walnuts
Black walnuts are the fruit of a tree that is native to North America. They are similar in taste and appearance to English walnuts, but they are much more difficult to crack and remove the shell. The shell is callous and must be removed before eating or cooking with black walnuts. The young walnuts are easy to cut through but can easily stain your hands, so wear gloves!
The green nuts are gathered in spring when they are green and soft enough to cut easily with a knife. The tannins give nocino its distinct flavor, but too much will make it too bitter for most people's tastes.
You can use Everclear if you prefer those products over grain alcohol, but the end result will differ. Vodka has less flavor than grain alcohol, so it will make a more neutral flavored nocino that is not as sweet as what you would get if you used grain alcohol. Everclear is basically pure ethanol and has no flavors of its own, so it has no influence on your nocino taste.
Any citrus peel can be used (lemon, lime, orange), but I have found that oranges have the best flavor and aroma. However, the lemon taste is much stronger than the orange taste, so I suggest using oranges instead if you do not like lemons.
Thyme is an herb that I usually associate with savory dishes, but it works well here. So if you have any on hand (and I hope you do), go ahead and use them. If not, don't worry about it.
Tips for Foraging for Green Walnuts
The first step in making nocino is to find green walnuts. These are the immature fruits of the black walnut tree, which can be found growing wild in many parts of North America. You will most likely not find them at your local grocery store, but you may be able to locate some by looking for large black walnut trees near your home or office.
Look closely at its leaves and branches when you spot a promising candidate. If they have begun changing colors from green to yellow or brown, it is time to harvest. The fruit itself should still be green when you take it from the tree.
Black walnut liquor is made from black walnuts and grain alcohol. It's also known as nocino or liqueur de noix noires.
Step 1: Prepare the Walnuts
Gather young green walnuts. The walnuts should have a smooth outer shell but not yet mature enough to be wrinkled and brown.
Cut walnuts in half with a sharp knife and place them in a jar with peels from oranges and several sprigs of thyme if you like (I usually do).
Rinse the green husks with warm water before using them to remove any dirt or insects they may have picked up from the tree in your kitchen.
This step isn't necessary if you're using fresh nuts that haven't been sitting around too long in storage or transport. If you're foraging them like I do, make sure to only select nuts without holes, cuts or cracks.
Wearing gloves, slice your unripe walnuts in half, making sure to toss any that are rotted inside or have any blemishes
Step 2: Add Ingredients to Jar
Add sliced black walnuts and ingredients to the jar. Make sure to wear rubber gloves while handling the walnuts as they will stain your hands or anything around you!
Fill the bottle with grain alcohol (vodka or moonshine) until it reaches within 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top of the jar.
Step 3: Steep for 40-50 days and shake daily
Store in a cool place for 40-50 days at room temperature, occasionally shaking to redistribute ingredients as they settle out during the infusion period. The green outer shell will turn black
Transfer the contents of a mason jar into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin and squeeze gently to extract liquid through holes in the cloth. Discard solids left behind in the filter. Bottle liquid into small dark bottles for storage.
You'll need to strain the black liquid twice, so make sure you have a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and an extra container of some kind for this part.
You will need a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, paper towels, or a coffee filter for the second straining.
It's essential to ensure that you get every last bit of juice out of your walnuts, so be sure to squeeze and work the cheesecloth/paper towel/coffee filter when it comes time for this part!
Step 4: Bottle and age for 6 months at least before enjoying!
Now that you have your black walnut nocino, you'll want to store it in a dark place. You can use any clear glass jar or bottle. Ideally, you should use a bottle with a cork or stopper—this will keep the light out of your nocino while it's aging!
Ideally, you should age your nocino for at least 6 months before enjoying it. Then, the flavor will improve and become smoother as the alcohol content decreases and water evaporates from the mixture.
If you want to speed up the process, agitate your bottle every day for about 5 minutes by tipping it back and forth. This helps redistribute all those delicious flavors!
The longer (and harder) way is simply allowing nature to take its course 🙂
Expert Tips + Recipe Notes
Making nocino is pretty simple, but there are some tricks to getting it right. Here are some expert tips on making nocino:
- Use fresh green walnuts, not dried ones or older green ones. You can find them in the Northeast US around early July.
- Make sure your jar or bottle is made of glass, not plastic, so it can't leach chemicals into your drink and that the liquid does not stain the container
- Wear gloves and wash down your surfaces quickly.
Nocino can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with other spirits, such as gin or vodka. It's also commonly used in cocktails like the Black Widow, which combines nocino with vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream.
There are many ways to use nocino at home. Here are some ideas:
- Serve chilled on its own as a digestif after dinner or mix with sparkling water for a refreshing spritzer.
- Add a splash of nocino to your coffee for an exciting twist on your morning cup of joe.
- Add it to soda water for a leisurely cocktail option, especially if you haven't had nocino before.
Slightly bitter, with some citrus flavors and slightly sweet.
To make nocino, add young black walnuts, along with aromatics and spices to a clean glass jar, top it with a high-proof neutral grain spirit and let them infuse for 1-2 months. Then strain, bottle and let it cure for up to a year.
While nocino is a deep and savory liqueur, nocello is an extremely sweetened version of black walnut liquor.
Black Walnut Liqueur (Nocino)
Nocino is a liqueur made from the dark walnuts of the black walnut tree (Juglans nigra). It is a traditional Italian liqueur, and it's known for its rich, earthy flavor.
- 15 green black walnuts, without blemishes or holes.
- peel from ½ an orange
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 32 oz of neutral spirt (grain alcohol preferred, but vodka can work as well.
- 1 cup of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
- Clean young walnuts, making sure there is no excess dirt or blemishes. Cut walnuts in half once.
- Place walnuts into a clean glass jar with peels from oranges and thyme
- Fill the bottle with grain alcohol (vodka or Everclear) until it reaches within 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top of the jar.
- Store for 40-50 days at room temperature, occasionally shaking to redistribute ingredients as they settle out during the infusion.
- Strain solids through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer, then add honey or simple syrup to taste.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 169Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 3g
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