Nocino? Nocino!

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It was late June and the walnut trees loaded with the promise of a heavy harvest. I was not looking forward to another 600 lbs harvest from our 3 trees.  I had heard that there was an Italian liquor made from green walnuts and searched the Internet for more information.

I found that Nocino is the traditional walnut liqueur made throughout Italy and Ticino (the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland). The base ingredients of nocino have changed very little through the centuries. They include cut, unripe walnuts, alcohol (typically grappa or grain alcohol), sugar and spices. It is the mix of spices, that can vary widely from family to family, and village to village that gives each nocino its unique character. Continue reading

2013 Tasting Event

Last evening, July 15th, we held our 2nd Annual Tasting and Harvest.  We started with the harvest, collecting 30 green walnuts for each new batch to be created.  The nuts are a little further along than last years but still easy to cut.  When cut, they show a little line where the shell will form and a bit of the nut meat starting to form.

Six new batches were offered and two returned from the previous year.  We did not have judges, as last year.  Instead we shared our findings around the table. These are my notes of the discussion. I invite the others to add their comments at the end.

Mick and Pauline’s batch, bottled in a tall bottle sported the Italian name, Tenuta Barber Nocino. A surgeon general warning on the back suggested how this beverage may affect both men and women. It had a very dark color, as can be expected.  The bouquet was strong with clove. Its flavor had a strong suggestion of prunes.  They had followed the basic recipe using a Sangiovese grappa for their  base.  It was easy to drink. This was their first time making nocino.

Juanita with some help from RJ, offered a finely filtered nocino, having processed it through fine wine filters.  The color was pretty light for a nocino.  The bouquet offered a warning: mildew and soap.  The taste reminded some of cough syrup but still perfumy.  Juanita said, “If it weren’t mildewy it would be good!”  Her alcohol base was a vodka. Not the cheapest but better then what she used last year. We decided to test it as a weed killer on a patch next to the patio.

My offering was dark in color with a green ting to it. The aroma was strong in cinnamon and clove.  I had doubled both from the basic recipe. Also, instead of 2.5 cups of sugar, I used 1.5 cups plus 1.5 cups of honey.  I added another 1/2 cup of sugar at bottling. Clove was strong in the flavor making it a bit hearty but still smooth and drinkable. The bottle sported a label featuring Micheal Angelo’s David sipping some nocino and the name: Nocino: The Elixir of Nuts.

Trudy and Keith brought 2 sampling created by their daughter, Kim.  The first labeled Imbibe, displayed cherry notes in the bouquet reminiscent of Christmas fruitcake. Cinnamon showed on the back palate. The color was a rich dark brown with some clarity. It had been filtered through coffee filters. She followed the basic recipe using double distilled Mueller Thurgau 150-proof as her base.  Someone remarked how this would go beautifully with pumpkin pie.  We all agreed with thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas in our heads.

Kim’s second offering was labeled Collabria.  Also made with distilled distilled Mueller Thurgau but this time 100-proof.  The aroma had a strong suggestion of black licorice or anise. The flavor recalled cola even Dr. Pepper to the tasters.  It was very smooth, light, soft.

First time nocino makers, Irene and Paul, were unable to attend but sent their “Upside Down Smile Nocino” over for us try. the bottle sported a bright yellow round smiley face sticker upside-down. Irene followed the lead of our first place winner last year with the addition of a citrus vodka: 1/2 regular vodka, 1/2 orange vodka. But she stepped outside the box by also adding fresh orange peels and sliced cucumber. The bouquet suggested green tomato or rotting green vegetable.  The tasters asked “Why cucumbers?” and “Was it the whole orange peel or just the zest?”  Most agreed that it would probably make a good cure-all.

Returning from last years event were two offerings.  We had hoped that time may have helped.

Juanita brought back her 2011 nocino. After reading the notes from the previous year, which declared it too hot and peppery we tasted it and found that it had not cooled down. It burned going down.  Time had not improved it.

Theresa, winner of the 3rd place ribbon last year, offered her 2011 brew.  It was found to be hot and a bit soapy.  I think it got 3rd only because the others were even worse… Time had not improved it either.

The votes were cast with the following determined as winners:

  • First Place : Kim’s “Imbibe”
  • Second Place: Theresa’s “Nocino: The Elixer of Nuts”
  • Third Place: Mick and Pauline’s “Tenuta Barber Nocino”

We are learning as we go and look forward to what will come next year.  There was talk of trying to get a coffee or chocolate flavor.  Maybe next year we can find a commercial brand to try as well, though we are enjoying the variety and creativity of our blends.

Pairing and Use of Nocino

I hope to collect some links for recipes that use Nocino and that would make good pairings.

Here is a suggested cocktail

Matrimony Cocktail

Here is a link to an Oregonian article which included the following recipes.Nocino Liqueur, Makes a Perfect Summertime Backyard Party, by Martha Holmberg, June 09/July 09

Spinach, Feta and Oregano Balls
Herbed Pork Roulade
Fava Bean and Fresh Mint Tapenade
Tangy-Sweet Garbanzo Beans Salad
Zucchini “Pasta” Salad
Nocino Liqueur Ice Cream