Limoncello surely is the Lord of all liqueurs in Campania. However, thanks to the extraordinary variety of typical products, the region offers plenty of other ‘elixirs’ combining perfumes and legends, tastes and traditions. Any example? The nocino, an infusion whose origins are mysterious and which is now part of the local gastronomic tradition.
British tribes, enigmatic female figures and even witches – the passion for the walnut infusion is common to different cultures, however hard it is to identify the first to produce it. Old chronicles report that, when the Romans arrived in Britannia in the I century A.D., they faced fierce and warlike people with painted faces and tattoos. They where the Picts, who celebrated special rites on the night of the summer solstice and drank an infusion of unripe walnuts with honey and fermented fruit that got them inebriated to the point of trance. St. John’s Night is also linked to one of our traditions: women went into the dark fields with long ladders and wicker baskets to collect the walnuts for the liqueur. A barefoot maiden had to steal the unripe fruits, while an expert woman had to prepare the infusion, to grant the highest quality of liqueur. Others link the creation of nocino with the witches’ rites of the peasants’ tales of Benevento. The witches would meet on the shortest night of the year under a walnut tree. Thus, the plant and its fruits and products are part of the cultural DNA of Sannio and the hinterland of Campania.
The tradition of picking walnuts on the night between June 23rd and 24th has gradually been lost, but the use of unripe fruits to prepare the nocino has carried on for centuries. The infusion, in fact, derives from the whole walnut with the husk, which is the pulp around the unripe fruit, before it turns into a hard shell. First stage: wash the green walnuts, dry them, cut them into four equal parts and put them into a wide-opening jar. Add cloves, lemon rind, a cinnamon stick, and obviously alcohol. Close the jar and let it stay for at least 45 days in a place where it gets enough sunshine. At the end, filter it with a fine-mesh colander and add the syrup obtained by melting 17 ounces of sugar in half a litre (17 fl oz) of water over a low heat. Stir gently to obtain a homogeneous liqueur, pour it into glass bottles and store it away in a cupboard with no light for about four months. According to tradition, it has to macerate for around 17 weeks, to be ready by October 31st. The nocino is ideal as a digestif after meals, and is tasted in Autumn and on Christmas time.
35 oz green nuts
34 fl oz 95° alcohol
1 cinnamon stick
the rind of 3 lemons
17 fl oz water
17 oz raw cane sugar