The best nocino I have ever tasted comes from my friend Maura in Modena. Her secret is aging it in small oak barrels that are handmade by her barrel-maker husband, Francesco Renzi. The walnuts are picked on June 25, the holy day of San Giovanni. It is the moment when the pulp is still green and the walnut forming inside has not hardened. Once cut and exposed to the air, the green walnut and everything it touches turns dark brown, including your hands. Work on a surface that won’t stain, and consider wearing gloves. Your nocino should be ready to drink by Christmas.
3 litres grain alcohol (190 proof or 95%)
6 cups sugar
5 dozen green walnuts
3 cinnamon sticks
In a large bowl, stir together the alcohol and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside. Quarter the nuts with a heavy bladed knife or cleaver. Place in a jar and cover with the alcohol. Add the cinnamon sticks and cover the jar tightly. Place it in a warm, dark place for forty days, stirring it every two or three days.
Strain out the walnuts and discard. Then, using a coffee filter, strain out the sediment and put the nocino into bottles (or a small oak barrel, if you are so inclined), and age for at least six months.
Makes 3 litres