Nocino, an amazing Italian spirit made from walnuts

Image courtesy of Francesco Boni
nocino


Nocino is a dense dark brown spirit made from walnut husks.

It is approximately 40% alcohol and has a characteristic sweet and aromatic flavour.

The product is scheduled to receive the IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) mark by the European Union.


How to enjoy it

It is consumed on its own or at the end of the meal as a digestivo.

It's more popular in cold seasons but is very refreshening served with ice in the summer.


Origins

Its origins are not connected to Italy but to Britain, and the celtic tribe of the Picts.

The legend says that during the night of St John (24th June) the Picts took a brown drink made from walnuts and became particularly euphoric.

The Romans, once they conquered Britain noticed this tradition, but legend wants that the Picts left Britain and did not pass over the recipe.

Many centuries later evidence of this product was present at the Duchy of Benevento in southern Italy, conquered by the Longobards.

In the last centuries it became a popular tradition in many Italian regions, in particular Emilia Romagna, where chestnut harvesting is particularly present.


From legend to today's recipe

The night of St John (24th June) is a magic night, from both a pagan and a christian perspectives.

The legend says that walnut husks need to be picked on this particular night, when they are covered by a dew which is a panacea for all evils.

The walnut husks should be picked by virgins in search of a husband, climbing barefoot on a wooden ladder.

The husks should be then delivered to their mothers, the rezdore, i.e. the matrons who ran the houses and in charge of making the spirit.

But enough with legend's talk, you can make your own nocino wherever you live by following this...


Traditional nocino recipe

The traditional recipe is not based on some magical spell from the St John night of the 24th of June.

However, from the beginning of june walnut trees should be monitored to check if the walnut husks are ripe and ready.

In 2010 this special moment was in fact the 24th of june, by coincidence, but the date varies every year.

The green walnuts husks are checked by piercing them with a pin.

The pin should penetrate to the centre of the husk.

If the pin meets resistance and does not penetrate to the centre, this indicates that the wooden part of the walnut is forming and the ideal time for the harvest has passed.

If instead white malic acid is released after pinning, then it's too early for harvesting.


Ingredients

31 to 35 green walnut husks, picked in uneven numbers (according to tradition)

700 to 900 grams of sugar

1 litre of 95% pure alcohol

A fragment of clove (optional)

A sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)


Preparation

Cut the walnut husks in quarters with a wooden knife, and place them at the bottom of a glass bowl with a non-plastic top.

Add the sugar to the walnut husks.

Seal the bowl and place it under the sun.

After the sugar has melted, add the alcohol.

A fragment of clove and a sprinkle of cinnamon may be added as a final touch.

The recipient should then be closed and left in a partially sunny area for at least 60 days, while periodically opened and stirred.

The product is then filtered and placed in dark glass bottles for use, or alternatively further refined into wooden barrels.





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