Nocino is an Italian liqueur made from green walnuts. It’s sweet, nutty, and spicy. You can mix it with a cocktail, drink it straight, or pour it over vanilla ice cream for a delicious dessert.
Like most liqueurs, nocino can be pretty pricey. A small bottle (375 ml) starts at about $30. So last summer, I decided to make my own.
To make the nocino, we first needed green walnuts. No problem, there are California walnut trees all over the place. (I assume you could use any green walnut to make this liqueur.)
Last June, I located a walnut tree on public land that was loaded with green walnuts and foraged away. Here’s what I picked, which is approximately 800 times what I needed:
There are lots of recipes for nocino online. They all say to steep green walnuts with a combination of syrup and spices in liquor–either vodka, wine, or a combination of both.
I tried several recipes and found that Imbibe’s recipe was the best. It was also the simplest. You steep the walnuts in vodka for 40 days until the concoction turns the color of motor oil. Then you add syrup, let it sit for 40 more days, and you’re done.
Once finished, I did a taste test. It was pretty great! It lacked the depth of the storebought nocino, but it had all the nutty and sweet notes I was looking for. Best of all, my nocino cost a fraction of the price of the one I bought in the store.
Just how much cheaper is it to make your own nocino? I used a 750 ml bottle of vodka that cost $12 and about $1 in supplies. The green walnuts were foraged and the lemon was free from my garden. All and all, it came to $13 for twice the amount of nocino that you can buy for $30.
That means that a 375 ml bottle of my nocino cost $6.50, where store-bought nocino cost $30. Making my own nocino was 79% cheaper than buying it.
Best of all, it was easy. While making nocino takes 80 days, it only takes a few minutes of work. Here’s how to do it.
Make Your Own Nocino
(This recipe is from Imbibe Magazine)
16 green walnuts, quartered
Zest of 1 lemon
750 ml bottle of vodka
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
In June-August, pick green walnuts from a tree. If that doesn’t work for you, you can purchase them online.
Quarter the green walnuts. Use gloves because the walnuts can stain.
Put the green walnuts and lemon zest in the glass jar. Add the vodka. Cover the jar.
Now it looks like this:
(I didn’t have a lid for my flask, so I used a cheese cloth and a rubber band to cover it.)
Put the jar in a dark place and let the liquid steep for 40 days.
After that time, the liqueur will be dark brown, but will taste abrasive. It’s time to add the syrup.
In the pan, combine water, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Turn on the heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Throw out the cinnamon stick.
Strain the spent walnuts out of the liqueur. Add the syrup. Cover and let sit for another 40 days.
At the end of that time, strain the liqueur through a cheese cloth to get out the bits of walnut and cinnamon. Pour into a glass bottle.
Ta-da! You’ve got yourself a delicious, versatile liqueur. It makes a great gift, too.