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Nocino (Green Walnut Liqueur) & Vin de Noix


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#1 Jim Dixon

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Posted 14 December 2002 - 09:27 AM

I finally finished making a batch of nocino this week. I had started back in the late spring of 2001 when, at the direction of a friend from Tuscany who's at grad school here, I picked a couple dozen hard green walnuts off the tree in our yard. I split these into quarters with a small hatchet, packed them in a one gallon glass jar, and covered with a half-gallon of grain alcohol.

This sat in my garden (it needs to be the sun) all summer, then in October, just before we left for Italy, I strained it out and added a small amount of sugar syrup that just happened to be at hand. It looked like used motor oil, but I stuck it in the basement and sort of forgot about it.

This summer I met Anna Tasca Lanza during a book tour (her family owns Regaleali Winery in Sicily, and she's written a couple of cookbooks). Her book had a recipe for nocino that included clove, cinammon, and lemon, so I decided to incorporate those flavors. It just took 6 months to get around to it.

I heated some water and added a few cloves, 2 sticks of cinammon, and a Meyer lemon, halved and squeezed, peel and all. I let this steep for an hour, strained, and added sugar to make a simple syrup. I blended this 50:50 with the nocino base, and since, it already had a little syrup, it probably ended up at about 60 proof. It doesn't have quite the alcoholic bite as the limoncello I make, which is 85 proof.

But it does taste good.

I only used half of the base, so I may make the more traditional Tuscan version that renato told me his father makes...it's just walnuts, alcohol, and syrup.

Since this is the time for good citrus, it's also a good time to start more limoncello. I think my recipe is on this board somewhere.

Jim
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#2 trillium

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 05:01 PM

From what I can tell of nocino, everybody's recipe is the most traditional, it just depends on whose family you talk to! It has really ancient roots, there are old recipes where you make it according the the equinox and all that. There are contests for the best one in a village too, and some family recipes are top secret. Anyway, I like it with a little tiny bit of cinnamon and clove and the peel of 1 lemon for my 29 walnuts (or thereabouts, but it has to be an odd number). I've heard of versions with coffee and black pepper too.

I just strained my limoncello last weekend. Yum, now it just needs to age. Do you put the juice in yours? Another good one to make this time of year is "44". I take 1 orange or two small tangerines (this year it was clemintines) and slit them and insert 44 coffee beans into the fruit. I also throw in any leaves and stems I can find, 1 liter of vodka and 1/4 c of demerra sugar. You're supposed to let it sit 44 days, but ours always ends up being closer to "88" because we forget it's in the closet.

After talking to my friend's dad from Pisa, I made a lemon verbana liqueur that tasted like utter crap when it was first finished, but now, about 4 years later it's really great. I'm planning on tackling an amaro next, I've tracked down most of the ingredients.

regards,
trillium

#3 nightscotsman

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 09:38 PM

I've been thinking about trying my hand at making some nocino next year. Can you describe the flavor a bit? Is it similar in taste to any other liqueur?

David Lebovitz has a recipe for nocino in his book "Room for Dessert". The ingredients list includes green walnuts, cinnamon sticks, cloves, vanilla bean, lemon zest, sugar and vodka. He uses it in a recipe for a very rich custard.

I did make vin d'orange earlier this year and it was really quite nice with ice and sparkling water.

#4 Sandra Levine

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 09:43 PM

Jim, this sounds delicious. I envy you your walnut tree.

#5 trillium

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Posted 16 December 2002 - 12:13 PM

I've been thinking about trying my hand at making some nocino next year. Can you describe the flavor a bit? Is it similar in taste to any other liqueur?

Hmm. I can tell you what nocino doesn't taste like. It doesn't taste at all like other nut liqueurs like frangelico or amaretto. It has a more herbal taste, since you use the green walnuts in their shell, followed by a more typical "walnut" taste. There is a significant amount of tannins, which the sugar sort of compensates for. Maybe a little bitterness as well? It needs to age longer than citrus based liqueurs to get really good, I think. It's black-green in color and has hints of whatever else you decide to add ( I like to go very easy on the other flavors). It's something that to me is perfectly suited to drinking in cold months, but I wouldn't really be crazy about having it in hot ones. You need a very sturdy cleaver or small hatchet to wack the nuts into quarters. We have an antique thiers-issard meat cleaver that could fell a small tree. It worked perfectly.

regards,
trillium

#6 Jim Dixon

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Posted 16 December 2002 - 02:22 PM

Trillium hit it right on...I'd add that I get much better results with grain alcohol than vodka, but if you use go with the 100 proof since it's more neutral flavored.

I plan to make the rest of my nocino base into a more tuscan version...just dilute the alcohol with sugar syrup and no other flavors. Marco at Basta's makes a lot of these infused alcohols, and he says about 40 proof is right for traditional nocino, but I like it stronger.

I took a bottle of my Sicilian nocino to the olive oil dinner and everybody liked it...but they'd been drinking wine for a couple of hours by then.

Jim
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#7 Jim Dixon

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 01:20 PM

I started a fresh batch of this Italian walnut digestivo. I cut about 20 green walnuts into quarters (a great use for my giant chef de chef knife), tossed them into a gallon jar, and added a half-gallonm of grain alcohol...

Posted Image

I'll let it sit in the sun until the end of summer...

Posted Image

This photo is about 2 days old, and the stuff already looks like used motor oil. I may add a lemon, cinnamon stick, and a some clove, since that's what I flavored my last batch with.

Jim
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#8 Craig Camp

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 01:30 PM

Way to go Jim. I have several neighbors who also make this concoction. One does it with wine. He adds every leftover he has until the bottle is almost full than adds a good dose of alcohol.

For those who are skeptical this is good stuff.
<a href='http://www.cornerstonecellars.com' target='_blank'>Cornerstone Cellars, Napa Valley</a>

#9 docsconz

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 02:01 PM

While I certainly didn't make it, I brought back some from Regaleali and Anna Tasca Lanza.It is good stuff, but what I brought back was very darkly colored.
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#10 Jim Dixon

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 03:46 PM

but what I brought back was very darkly colored


When this is done it'll be like a black hole...no light will escape. It's not the most attractive drink, but it does taste good.

I should've noted that after straining out the nuts I'll add a 5:4 (water:sugar) syrup to dilute the 195 proof alcohol down to about 95.

Jim
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#11 beans

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 10:27 AM

I have a recipe that calls for 30 walnuts, lemon zest, 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 cloves and 2 1/2 cups of sugar. I'll be using 100 proof vodka. I'm not sure where I can purchase whole green walnuts. Are they easy to quarter? I read a warning they will stain your hands. This recipe ages it for at least a month.

Yet another one of my many liquor related projects! :raz:

#12 trillium

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 12:07 PM

I don't know if you can actually buy green walnuts...the best way is to get them straight from the tree. You're in Alaska, right? I don't know how your growing season is, but I'd say it's a bit too late here on the west coast to do this, they're best when you pick them in June. They're easier to quarter then, and you get the herbal from the green casing. It involves some dexterity and manual labor to bust 'dose nuts (sorry couldn't help it). We use a heavy French cleaver that is more like a small ax. That makes the job much easier. They do give a walnut stain (ha ha) to your cutting board and hands.

I'm different then Jim in that I like to age it in a dark place for a longer time. He does his in the sun. We should have a taste off!

regards,
trillium

#13 beans

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 12:21 PM

From and lived in Alaska. :wub:
Living currently in Cleveland, armpit, oHIo! :wacko: (really, I love this town, it's sort of like an old shoe -- comfortable and familiar)

Taste testing yes! I'll have to have my cleaver sharpened, and locate green walnuts somewhere! Might have to be a next year project listed item...

From the recipe, I would have never know to purchase whole greenies. (no mention of it) Glad to have found this thread!

#14 Jim Dixon

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Posted 25 July 2003 - 09:42 AM

beans,

I recommend using grain alcohol instead of 100 proof vodka. I've done both, and the alcohol yields much better nocino (or limoncello, for that matter). I find it's not so much the block that gets stained as my fingers. The color is just starting to wear off.

I follow the advice of Renato, who told his father puts his in the sun. We checked the nuts on my tree in June, and they were not quite ready (or that's what he said, altho' I can't claim to know how he could tell).

Next year I'll try to remember to pick some of the tiny green ones and cook them in syrup. I think this is Greek, but it's supposed to be good.

Jim
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#15 olivina

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 08:25 AM

I just ordered green walnuts from California so I can try making nocino. I've never tried making it and am planning on using the recipe from Artusi. I was wondering if anyone has tried making it and which recipes you have used. The green walnut season is so short and the nocino takes 6 months, so if I don't get it right I have to wait for next year. A long learning process for someone who needs instant gratification! :laugh:

I think I'll have to use vodka as the base since Everclear is not available in Washington State. I wonder if I should prolong the steepng time as in the eGullet advice for limoncello?
I have 4 lbs of green walnuts, so I can't experiment with several recipes, and of course it takes 6 months to concoct...

#16 trillium

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 10:23 AM

There are several thread that mention nocino, but for some reason when you search all of eGullet it doesn't pull them up. However, if you search just this forum, you'll pull them all up...

You'll see from browsing the threads that Jim Dixon prefers to use grain alcohol (like Everclear). I've used either that or vodka. The vodka does need a longer steeping time. Really, you can leave the nuts in the concotion until you're ready to drink it, I haven't found that they can oversteep like limoncello does. This year I'm going to make a red wine based aperatif with the walnuts and I'm using half vodka and half brandy to for them. I will mention that the longer the nocino ages, the more pronounced the spice flavors become and the less nutty it gets. So if you plan on keeping it around a while, I'd go very easy on any spice add-ins.

Have fun, I'm sure whatever you do will taste wonderful.

regards,
trillium

#17 olivina

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 01:55 PM

Hi Trillium,

Thank you so much for your advise on the spices. I would much rather have a nuttier spirit than a spicy one.

Good luck with your apertif. Sounds great!

Carla

#18 slkinsey

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 02:19 PM

As an aside... my parents live in Houston now, and some of my father's colleagues at Rice U are Italians. They decided they wanted to make Nocino, but walnut trees don't grow in Houston. Pecans are, however. So they decided to make pecan Nocino instead. It turned out great. Make sure you gather the green nuts on San Giovanni day, though!
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#19 olivina

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 03:27 PM

That is such a cool story about the Italian friends in Houston using pecans instead of walnuts. I love the idea of using fresh and local ingredients and adapting them to traditional Italian recipes. It is so hard to replicate food eaten in Italy, so why not adapt the methods and work with ingredients at hand?

We grow a lot of hazelnuts in the Pacific Northwest, hmmm.. I wonder if I've missed the green hazelnut season...

#20 trillium

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 04:24 PM

That tends to be my philosphy when cooking Italian food, but the outside of the hazlenut is very prickly. I've thought about trying a nocino type drink with it but I worry about strainly off all those really fine prickly things.

I'm sorry you had to buy your green walnuts, there are old abandoned trees everywhere here in Portland and it's always easy to find a source.

regards,
trillium

#21 olivina

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 05:34 PM

Next June I'll make a trip to Portland and pick my own. It does make me sad to think of abandoned walnut trees. A walnut tree is such a treasure, don't you think?
Are hazelnuts prickly? The ones I remember are smooth, a wrap like a soft geen glove? Could there be a different kind of hazelnut? I even remember eating green hazelnuts without much difficulty as a child. Maybe a tummy ache after too many.

#22 Jim Dixon

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 06:49 AM

I've been making nocino for a few years. Here's what I do:

Split a dozen or so geeen walnuts (in Portland, they are at the right stage now) and combine with 750 ml grain alcohol (aka everclear) in a clear jar. Seal and place in the sun for the rest of the summer, which means late September here. Strain out the walnuts with cheese cloth and dilute with sugar syrup to 95 proof (equal amounts syrup and alcohol, which is 190 proof). Let sit for a month or so if you can before drinking.

I've been using less sugar lately, about 3 parts sugar to 4 parts water, and I like the results.

Jim
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#23 Abra

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 09:41 AM

Would you post your mail order source for green walnuts? I've been wanting to make vin de noix, but don't know where to get the walnuts.

#24 Rien

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 02:14 PM

Would you post your mail order source for green walnuts?  I've been wanting to make vin de noix, but don't know where to get the walnuts.

I bought mine from Mount Lassen Farms in California but they're past their harvest of green walnuts.

Check with them next year.

It sounds like farms in Washinton/Oregon are still harvesting. Maybe there's a connection up there?

Best,

rien

#25 Rien

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 02:17 PM

Another good one to make this time of year is "44".  I take 1 orange or two small tangerines (this year it was clemintines) and slit them and insert 44 coffee beans into the fruit. 

I made some "44" last year. Quite good and I still have a bit left. How do you drink it/use it? I've tried it chilled and, on the recommendation of a French friend whose family used to make it, with white wine, ice, and an orange slice. I've also used it in desserts.

Have I covered all the bases?

Thanks,

Rien

#26 olivina

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 10:22 PM

I ordered green walnuts from Mt. Lassen like Rien. I was a little late for their official harvest but they were so nice to go back out and harvest a few more for me. I don't know if its way too late now for California but you might try calling them at 530 839-2178.
Good luck! Please let us know if you find a Washington/Oregon walnut farm willing to sell the green ones.
Are any of you really nice Oregon residents coming up to Seattle in the next few weeks? I could use more walnuts and maybe some of that bread from Ken's. Am willing to trade or maybe even cash.... :biggrin:

#27 olivina

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 09:09 AM

Jim, My walnuts just arrived and I am charmed by their smell. They have like a green pear skin backed by a deeper walnut base. I noticed in your last nocino recipe, you didn't use spices. I like the idea of just the nuts and alcohol if it makes the nocino taste more pure, less distracting.
Is that why you skip the spices?
Looks like I'll have to use vodka, Everclear is not in my near future and I need to get these guys in the sun before we lose the sun in Seattle. :blink:

#28 trillium

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 09:43 AM

Nocino recipes vary from house to house, you can make it with or without spices, I don't think there are any two "recipes" that are alike.

To my taste, a vanilla pod is always a nice addition and doesn't seem to distract from the nutty and herbal taste of the green walnuts. I've found the problem with the spices is that they start out balanced by the nut taste, but with aging (+2 years) tend to predominate the flavor. I like young ones better with a little spice, old ones without. Jim is of the "in the sun" approach, whereas, I like to do my alcohol extractions in a cool dark place. When you do it in a dark spot it takes longer, but I like the taste better. I also use my walnuts much earlier then Jim does, I them to still have a shell that you can cut easily (or the classice test to check is to put a needle through them) because I like the taste better when they're younger. Just do what you think sounds the best and you can always experiment with something new next year!

regards,
trillium

#29 trillium

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 09:45 AM

Another good one to make this time of year is "44".  I take 1 orange or two small tangerines (this year it was clemintines) and slit them and insert 44 coffee beans into the fruit. 

I made some "44" last year. Quite good and I still have a bit left. How do you drink it/use it? I've tried it chilled and, on the recommendation of a French friend whose family used to make it, with white wine, ice, and an orange slice. I've also used it in desserts.

Have I covered all the bases?

Thanks,

Rien

Pretty much! For desserts you mean brushing dried cakes with it and that sort of thing, right? It keeps forever in a cool dark place, and you might find you like the flavor even better after a year or two. I like to include a leaf or two of whatever citrus I'm using in my infusion as well, it makes a rounder more herbal flavor.

regards,
trillium

#30 Rien

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 12:19 PM

For desserts you mean brushing dried cakes with it and that sort of thing, right?

I've tried a number of dessert applications. From very simple - drizzling over vanilla gelato - to fairly elaborate ... using it to create syrups/reductions, poaching fruit, in a sweet fouace/fougasse (based off the recipe in Larousse), and to make zabaglione. Whenever I see a sweet recipe calling for marsala, sherry, or port, I contemplate replacing it with 44.