Most people know about walnuts and how they're used and enjoyed. Throughout the year, we love hearing about how people have been using their stash of CORKY'S NUTS: sprinkled over salads, folded into bread, lightly roasted, drizzled in chocolate, and straight out of the bag.
A little hidden gem in the walnut and liquor world is Nocino (pronounced no-CHEE-no). Nocino is a traditional Italian liqueur made out of green, unripened walnuts picked from the trees around the middle of June. At this stage, the walnut shell and husk have not entirely hardened and are soft enough to slice through. These smooth, green walnuts make up the base of Nocino and provide a beautiful, rich, caramel-brown color from their tannins. Nocino was first made in Garfagnana, a hilly region of Tuscany on the Feast of San Giovanni on June 24.
During the Summer Solstice, we invite our friends and family out to the farm for our annual Nocino party. On the day of the party, we head out to the orchards and pick fresh green walnuts right off the trees. At this stage of its growth process, walnut meat is almost like a clear gel. If you decide you'd like to make a batch for yourself, we can now ship our green walnuts directly to you. You'll want to make your batch after they arrive as the walnuts dry up. If you know someone with a walnut tree in their backyard or have one yourself, which the squirrels always find a way get to, this is a great way to capitalize on the bounty. Squirrels aren't fans of green walnuts and haven't figured out how to make Nocino. ;)
Ingredients in each batch vary from juniper, clove, citrus peel, coffee beans, cinnamon, and vanilla. There are many recipes you can find which use many or all of these ingredients. We like to experiment and create different batches each year and invite you to find the perfect blend to your liking.
Over the years, we've found that our batches have become better with age. Some bottles date back 10 years. Ok, we confess, that bottle was lost in the back of a cabinet and just resurrected. However, we celebrated by opening it up and enjoying it on the spot. Nocino is an incredibly delightful digestif, with many saying it tastes like Christmas. With a rich and spicy aroma, we love drizzling Nocino over ice cream, but our preference is to pour in a small glass, toast to a well-crafted batch, and sip away as the Italians do.
We've included our favorite Nocino recipe below. Following, there's a link to a google search of various recipes for you.
INGREDIENTS (single batch):
21 soft green walnuts, tender enough to cut easily with a knife
4 C. 80-proof vodka, Everclear, organic spirits
1 cinnamon stick
2" of vanilla bean (if desired)
1-3 coffee beans (if desired)
zest of 1 orange, in strips
1 juniper branch, 3" long
1-3 juniper berries
3/4 C. sugar
3/4 C. water
Pair of gloves to keep walnut tannins from staining your hands/skin
Cheesecloth or nut milk bag
Wide-mouth glass container with seal - one jar for each batch you make. Size: Single batch - up to 64oz container. Double batch - 128 oz / 1 gal container
Rinse green walnuts with water. Do not wash with soap, this is to get any dust and orchard dirt off the skin. Cut all 21 walnuts into quarters. We like to use a sharp knife, pierce the skin just a little, then slam down the walnut and knife against the cutting board. Walnut pieces will tend to fly, but that's part of the fun!
TIP: To make a double batch, just double the ingredients and keep the walnut count an odd number. Old wives tale. ;)
Put cut walnuts into a glass jar. Add cloves, cinnamon sticks, strips of orange zest, and juniper branch (you can add vanilla, juniper berries, and coffee beans at this stage if you choose) to the jar and pour in the alcohol of your choosing. Seal with lid and set jar where it will receive a couple of hours of sun a day for two months, turning upside down a few times every 3-4 days to distribute the mixture.
Within a matter of hours of pouring the alcohol over the green walnuts, you'll notice the mixture starting to turn brown. This is natural.
After two months, filter the liquid from the walnuts by pouring it over cheesecloth or the nut bag and into a large bowl.
Prepare sugar syrup with sugar and water. Bring to a boil in a heavy saucepan, occasionally stirring to dissolve sugar. Skim the surface and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Pour filtered Nocino back into a clean jar, stir in the sugar mixture, and return the juniper branch. Mix well. You can close the jar tightly and leave it indoors until Christmas. Remove the juniper branch after one month. Taste from time to time and it will only get better with age. You are also welcome to go ahead and transfer the finished product to a more aesthetically pleasing bottle with a cork.
If you'd like to know how to extend your infused walnuts from your initial batch, send us an email and we'll give you a great tip: firstname.lastname@example.org.