Most people know about walnuts, 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. It's at this stage where the walnut shell and husk have not quite 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. The walnut meat, at this stage of their growth process, is almost like a clear gel. If you decide you'd like to make a batch for yourself, we now can ship our green walnuts directly to you. You'll want to make your batch after they arrive as the walnuts begin to 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 they 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 your perfect blend to your liking.
Over the years, we've found that our batches become better with age. Some bottles dating 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 just 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 like the Italians do.
Below we've included our favorite Nocino recipe and following, for your convenience, the link to a google search of various recipes.
INGREDIENTS (single batch):
21 soft green walnuts, tender enough to cut easily with a knife
4 C. 80-proof vodka or Everclear
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 just to get any dust and orchard dirt off the skin. Cut all 21 walnuts into quarters. We like to use a sharp knife and 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 glass jar. Add cloves, cinnamon stick, strips of orange zest, and juniper branch (you can add vanilla, juniper berries, and coffee beans at this stage as well if you choose) to jar and pour in the alcohol of your choosing. Seal with lid and set jar in where it will receive a couple hours of sun a day for two months, turning upside down a few times every 3-4 days to distribute mixture.
Within a matter of hours from 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 heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Skim surface and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Pour filtered Nocino back into clean jar, stir in the sugar mixture, and return juniper branch. Mix well. Close jar tightly and leave indoors until Christmas. Remove juniper branch after one month. Taste from time to time and it will only get better with age. You are also welcome to transfer finished product to a more aesthetically pleasing bottle with cork.