Liqueur de noix: Green Walnut Liqueur

vanilla ice cream, doused

I recently stayed with some friends who have a house in the Lot, a lesser-visited area of France which is really beautiful. Because it lacks beaches, that’s seems to be the only thing keeping it from being an ideal summer vacation spot for hoards of tourists. Consequently, I was able to score some gorgeous old bistro wine glasses at a local flea market, which would’ve been ten times the price in Paris or Provence. (Actually, in Provence, they would’ve been twenty times the price.)

And speaking of amazing deals, when I spotted a few walnuts trees loaded with green walnuts behind their house—and the huge pool…and the immaculate vegetable garden…and the fabulously-equipped kitchen, they told me to take some, as they won’t be there in the fall, when they’re ready to harvest.

They’ll be gone? Party in the Lot, everyone!!

green walnuts

Near the end of June, specifically the 23 and 24th, is when the walnuts are traditionally harvested in Italy, although in the center of France, the walnuts are usually just right around the middle to the end of July. They’re perfect to use for liqueur-making when the walnut, and a slightly-crackly shell, is starting to form in the center.

green walnuts green walnuts

So I picked a big bag and hauled them back to Paris with me to make liqueur de noix: green walnut liqueur. Otherwise known as Nocino. When I used to make a version of this back when I lived in health-conscious California, my fingers got so stained from the walnuts, people I didn’t know thought I had a smoking problem. Around here, no one would give me a second look about that.

green walnuts

So if you’re concerned, you might want to wear gloves. But I like to wear my cooking stains proudly, and often leave the house with beet-stained hands, chocolate between my fingers, and flour in my eyebrows. As long as you don’t wear sweats with holes in the backside or Crocs around here, you’re okay.

(Although when I worked at the fish market and cut up fish all morning, well, that was a different story…my hands could clear a métro car in six seconds flat; people would flee, droit and gauche.)

macerating green walnuts nocino

The good thing about liqueur de noix is that it doesn’t stink. In fact, it has a dreamy, espresso-like walnut aroma that’s pretty intoxicating. Some people like to drink it by itself, after dinner as a digestive. That’s pretty high-test for me, but I frequently use it to flavor custards and ice creams.

vanilla ice cream

But most of the time, I find myself simply pouring a few spoonfuls over a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream. Call me nutty for green walnut liqueur, but that’s my idea of a great dessert. Especially when served in one of my new wine glasses, which I hope to get as much use from before they begin their inevitable disappearance. As most wine glasses around here eventually do, unfortunately.

Liqueur de noix
Make 1 quart (1l)

Adapted from Room for Dessert

Use the absolute (not ‘Absolut’) cheapest vodka you can find. It’s lunacy to use something pricey when the least-expensive swill yields similar results. And believe me, French peasants ain’t cracking open bottles of Stoli to make this.

Be very careful cutting the walnuts. They’re tough and if you’re not careful, the knife can slip. I use a cleaver, tap it into the skin of the green walnut, then lift the cleaver and whack it down on the cutting board to split it, keeping my other hand well out of the way.

Note that each batch of liqueur de noix will be different. I’ve made some that were lovely and sweet, others that had a distinctive bitter edge. For the first few days, the steeping walnuts will take on a extraterrestrial-green hue, which is normal. After a week or so, it’ll get darker and darker.

  • 2 1/2 cups (500g) sugar
  • 1 liter vodka
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • zest of one lemon, unsprayed, removed in wide pieces with a vegetable peeler
  • 30 green walnuts; washed, dried, and quartered

1. Mix everything in a large jar, one that will be big enough to hold everything. Stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved, then add the walnuts.

2. Tightly close the jar and let stand for two months on the counter, shaking the jar every day.

3. When it’s ready to bottle, filter the liqueur through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and pour into a clean bottle.

Storage: Liqueur de noix will keep for years stored in a cool, dry place. I use to keep mine in the refrigerator, but now I store it on my liqueur shelf and haven’t noticed any difference.

nocino serving green walnuts

Related Links and Recipes

Green Walnuts (Mail order from Local Harvest.com)

Nocino (Simply Recipes)

Vin de pêche: Peach leaf wine

Glyko Karythi: Green Walnut Spoon Sweet (About.com)

Shallot, Beer, and Cocoa Nib Marmalade

Vin de noix (Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook)

The Real Deal: Balsamic Vinegar in Modena

Nocino da Napa (Married with Dinner)

75 comments

  • They are so pretty on the tree. I’ve never seen a walnut tree here in NE Scotland, so they look so exotic to me like that.

    Well done with your new glasses, a great find :)

  • I see so many of the same sorts of posts on food sites, this was truly original and beautiful, thank you.

  • I love Nocino! Can a liqueur d’amande be made in the same way with the green almonds I keep seeing around here?

    ps: polishing off my crocs… ;)

  • Dieu merci Flickr let all the photos through, they’re gorgeous.

    What accounts for the difference in taste between each batch? The type/quality of walnuts? The time they were harvested?

  • What does unsprayed lemon zest mean?
    Btw, first time I see a young walnut n walnut tree!
    I used to think that walnut grows underground, just like peanut.LoL

  • Fabulous timing! I have just noticed that we have a walnut tree growing in a field (on a public footpath, therefore free for the picking) about 2 minutes walk from our house, and it has many of these beautiful green walnuts on it. I was wondering if I would need to wait until the autumn to use them, but now I can go and grab them before anyone else gets to them!

    I’ll pull on my Crocs right now (we English famously have no style, so no one cares if you wear them here!).

    Many thanks for the recipe.

  • JepH: It means to try to get lemons that are organic or are unsprayed with pesticides. Since you’re using the peel, it’s recommended.

    Marlowe: Perhaps different varieties of walnuts. I’ve made this in California and France a lot, and each one is unique and special in its own way.

    Barbra: I don’t think so, although those green almonds are awesome for snacking. Worth the work!

  • Love the stuff! Where can I get them in NY David?

  • I’ve always been too nervous to make anything with our walnuts in their green state, however this sounds really rather special, not too mention easy. I can’t wait to harvest some now, but I’ll have to wait until January down here.

  • This sounds really delicious. I wonder where I can get my hands on some green walnuts. Love the bistro glasses.

  • Thank you so much!! Our neighbors have an enormous walnut tree and we’ve never known what to do with them (other than pick them up and throw them in the organic waste bin). Just need to get the ladder out this weekend and we’ll be all set.

  • Jeremy and Erin: I listed a mail order source, and you should ask at your local farmer’s market if any of the vendors have a walnut tree, who might bring you some green walnuts.

    Otherwise, your best bet is to drive around the countryside in the middle of the night with a flashlight and steal them off someone’s tree. Then repay them a few months later by anonymously leaving a bottle of liqueur de noix, and some vanilla ice cream, on their doorstep as thanks.

  • Never had it, never heard of it, and now, of course, I don’t think I can live without it. Sigh. David, you and your posts are a curse upon me. In the best way.

  • I make Vin de Noix every summer to give away at Christmas! I get the most beautiful perfect French green walnuts at http://www.localharvest.org or direct
    from the grower at http://www.ClaryRidgeRanch.com Christy Clary will make sure you
    get just what you need!

  • When we go to the Vercors we stock up on the liqueur des noix made by the Chartreux monks (the ones that make Chartreuse), which is heaven, especially on apricot ice-cream! Wonderful stuff. And pickled walnuts are to die for, while you still have a stash of green ones about.

  • This sounds divine! A technical question: what does 30 green walnuts amount to, in weight?

  • Vin de noix is one of my favorite memories from the Perigord. I keep meaning to make it at home but haven’t yet. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Never heard of this, thank you! I’ve just started making vanilla extract, look at all the possibilities! (By the way, thank you for justifying my purchase of the absolute cheapest vodka for the stuff). And thanks for telling us where to find green walnuts in the US.

  • David, Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. It was like reading tons of your posts back to back. Thanks for the good read.

  • the Lot, a lesser-visited area of France which is really beautiful
    Shhhhh… Don’t tell everybody!! We like it just as it is, which is quiet… and I like walnuts too much to want to share them anyway!

  • David,

    Thank you for sharing so many treats. My friends and I will be leaving the states in August to spend a week in Aragon, France. I will have to track down (i.e stalk) this delight. I am planning to pack all my “eatin’ pants” as I am certain the ones I am currently wearing will protest once I begin to feed in France.

  • David, What a fascinating post. I had no idea anything could be made with green walnuts, and a liqueur at that! I made your lemon verbena ice cream this past week and it was fabulous!!! It was a special treat as our temerature was 104 degrees (in Texas) the day I made it. Thanks.

  • Are green walnuts just black walnuts at a younger stage? Or, are they an entirely different variety?

  • This is delightful! Walnut trees line the streets of my town, and I’m not afraid to play urban forager. I’ve been thinking about making this, and your recipe looks perfect. I like the addition of the vanilla to the liqueur.

  • Loved this post – we have a couple of bottles we brought back from a trip a couple of summers ago… It is pretty darn delicious on ice cream!

  • I got magnificently buzzed off Nocciola and a little limoncello in Naples a few years ago. I’d do it again in a heart beat. We were trying to figure out if we could do something like this with loquats (not seeds, but you probably could). Made jelly instead. BTW, you can keep the skins in a freezer and use them to touch up dark furniture.

  • I’m going to have to ask around the green market and see if I can get some green walnuts; I have never had this and would like to try it out.

    PS. I am trying to work my way through The Perfect Scoop- I’ve made six recipes so far, and my pants won’t button. Ice cream season should be in winter when I can wear a coat.

  • Love the post! Love the ice cream recipes in your book! But now you really got me…I’ve been looking for bistro wine glasses just like the ones you found… any idea where i can find them in California? All I see are the ones with the bees on them!

  • I couldn’t have said it better than ‘Chocolate & Toast’… something I’ve never had it nor heard of immediately becomes something I can’t live without. (Your posts tend to have that effect on me.) I immediately went to the link to get mail order walnut only to discover that the season is June only. How cruel to post this in July!

  • I love learning from your posts, David, but I also love the memories they bring. This one recalls the time we took our sailboat up the Canal de Bourgogne to Dijon. Not surprisingly, the lockkeepers do not work pendant l’heure du dejeuner (lunchtime). So there we were tied up at a lock looking down the canal lined on both sides with mature walnut trees as far as the eye could see, literally (about 2 km). We’d already had lunch, so the lockkeeper said there was nothing to do but get out and pick walnuts, so we did! We also received a primer on how to dry and store them, as this was fall, season of ripe walnuts. But next season, when you’re in need of green walnuts, go spend a weekend en campagne, somewhere between Dijon and the Saone river, and pick to your heart’s content. Everyone else does, as it is public land along the canals!

  • So that’s what walnuts looks like straight from the tree! :)

  • I meant to say…”look” like! I like the way the liqueur is a caramel colour. And vanilla bean ice cream is definitely a favourite!! I will “Stumble” this recipe!

  • hi long-lost co-worker! thanks for posting this. i’ve been coming across nocino in very strange ways lately – someone make a cute label for a bottle they gave someone else (not me, sadly) my neighbor spills a glass all over her husband’s suit and i happen to run into them in the driveway while they’re checking out if the dry cleaners could get out the stain (the answer is no) then your post on facebook yesterday. which i read just before heading to my mom’s house to water her garden while she’s on vacation, and it hits me that mom has a huge walnut tree AND the squirrels have for some reason NOT gotten to the walnuts yet! so, i picked a big bag and i’m going to make nocino later tonight. i’m only sad i have to wait 2 months to taste it, the walnuts smell insane, i can’t wait! thanks for the recipe!

    penny

  • David, can nocino be made with immature black walnut fruit? We have lots of black walnut trees on the property, but I wasn’t sure if they’d make a liqeur as tasty as that made with immature english walnuts. Do you know if the liqeur from black walnut is similar in flavor, or is it perhaps more bitter and astringent?

  • Hi Mari + Amy: Black walnuts are different than “English” walnuts and I’ve not used them to make Liqueur de noix or nocino. Guessing, I would say they might be too bitter, but if you have a lot on hand, maybe try a batch and see. It’s just a liter of (cheap) vodka and not much else in terms of expenses so you don’t have much to lose by trying.

    If you do make it, let us know how it turns out!

  • I have NO idea of the state of walnuts right now in CA. I will find out tomorrow w/o a doubt. Thanks!!

  • This has nothing to do with walnuts… I just wondered if you had seen this breaking news story featuring your favorite cephalopod:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8155417.stm

    See?! I keep telling everyone that they’re mean, evil creatures, hell-bent on taking us down. That proves my theory! -dl

  • I’ve seen green walnuts being sold in my local market here in Krakow – now I know what to do with them (luckily we have no shortage of cheap vodkas here…). Thanks!

  • No green walnuts available in Hawaii. Green macadamia nuts?? Coconuts? Oh well, if I ever come across any somewhere, I’ll know exactly what to do with them.

  • I have three huge walnut trees on my land here in the Bugey – and I had no idea what to do with the walnuts! So your recipe is really welcome – and I’d be happy to have more… :-)

  • The black walnut liqeur experiment has begun! On day two, the liquid is already nearly black, hmmm…and the walnuts have gone olive green. Only 59 days to go!

  • This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing :)

  • David, you’re the bomb! I would never have considered making something like this but, somehow, you make it see so do-able.

  • I have not seen any green walnuts in the markets yet. However, this morning I saw tons of almonds in their green casings at the Bastille market. Can you use these? If not, do you have a suggestion of how to use the fresh almonds?

  • Hi David!
    again, what a keen bit of synchronicity: i was lucky enough to track down a farm near Chico that still has green walnuts, though the farmer said the shells are starting to toughen a little bit.
    tell that to my cleaver. i dont care.

    anyhoo, i’ve been playing around with alcohol infusions for liqueurs and extracts lately (vanilla, lemon blossom, noyaux, cacao nib…) and wonder if adding the sugar at the start versus the end of the process is a necessary preservative step or a stylistic one?

    thanks and cheers!

  • wow…this looks so very amazing…i may try it & if all goes well use it as a dessert for one of our farm dinners (of course siting you:).

  • After reading this post I went to the supermarket and saw 2 French people loading up their carts with green walnuts, and I bought a bag too. Looks like they’re making liquor!

  • David,
    This looks interesting. My black walnut trees are loaded with these green morsels. I whacked one with a hammer & it easily exposed its creamy interior. I’m thinking about making the liqueur, but I don’t drink. Could I use it in cooking, as a sub for something like Frangelico? TIA

  • I have a hickory nut tree dropping green grenades like crazy. They look very similar. I wonder if it would work…hickory nut liqueur? I know the taste would be different. Do you think the method could yield a yummy booze?

  • The ice cream and nocino is even more delicious with a few toasted walnuts scattered over.

  • Have you tried using grain alcohol (~75% alcohol) instead of vodka? At least for limoncello, i’ve found that it does a better and faster job of extracting the essences. The walnut liqueur sounds wonderful; i’ll need to hunt down some green walnuts.

  • After reading this post about 2 weeks ago I plucked a nut from the walnut tree in my backyard and quartered it quite easily with a cleaver. Not having any vodka around at that time I postponed making the liqueur until today. Apparently this was a bad idea because the nuts were much, much harder. Bits of green stuff went flying all over the place, including into my eye which stung incredibly! After shooing the dogs out of the kitchen and donning sunglasses I continued hacking the nuts to bits. It doesn’t look pretty at all, like your photo, but I’m sure that doesn’t affect the taste. Can’t wait to try it in October. I’m off to the kitchen now to clean up a big mess!

  • Thanks David! I wish I had read this before making my batch. But I’m glad to hear that I was in good company with both my late season attempt and my cleaver technique! Here’s my
    write-up.

  • Andrew: I haven’t used that high-test liquor, but I do it in stores here. (It’s not available in many US states.) They call it “fruit alcohol” and I should pick up a bottle and experiment with it. In cooking, mind you….
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Saskia: Yes, do be careful. Depending on where you live, the walnuts will ripen at a different time of the year. In the Île de France, it’s around mid July, but in Italy, it’s late June. I’ve never had the shells fly, but as mentioned, use caution when cutting the nuts open.

    Gilda: I don’t think hazelnuts (or for those of you who have asked, green almonds) would work either. It’s a different breed altogether, but perhaps sleuthing around the internet, you might find a recipe for using them.

    Martha: I do use the liqueur in cooking, to flavor custards and ice cream. But if you’re avoiding alcohol altogether, you might want to pass on this recipe since it’s pretty strong.

  • What a timely post; I was just cursing those little razen, frazen, mazen, razen squirrels as they pluck unripe walnuts seemingly for entertainment. I have two large Englsih walnuts trees usually denuded of nuts by September, thanks to those pesky wabbits, uh I mean squirrels. At least now I can drink the end results thanks to your recipe.

    And as for other reader inquiries about black walnuts, I’ve seen recipes for pickled black walnuts, but have yet to try them. Here’s one from a UK site: http://www.davidgregory.org/pickled_walnuts.htm

  • I read this and immediately forwarded to my partner, who has a walnut tree in front of his house. We also have roving flocks of thieving parrots who like the walnuts, green or not. I always lamented that they took the crop from us before we could enjoy it.

    A nice large jar of proto-liqueur de noix is on the counter now, slowly staining itself a dark smoky brown/black. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Thank you so much for this recipe. When I traveled in Switzerland in 2006, my tour guide in Lugano told me the recipe for the Nocino, but she didn’t mention the cinnamon, vanilla or lemon, which I think would make a noticeable difference in the flavor. The Nocino I had tried was bitter to the point of unpleasantness – and with a seasonal recipe like this, I guess it’s all luck of the draw, because you can’t make it over. But my tour guide had raved so much how delightful the liqueur was as a treat, so I figured what I’d tried was simply a bad example.

    The weather has been terrible – very cool – in the Midwest this summer, but I am going to see if I can collect enough green walnuts at this point to try this recipe this summer.

  • Oh, I am so confused. I understand that there are different varsities of walnut trees in the US and in Europe. That’s great. I doubt I’m going to be able to find any English walnuts. Can I use the black walnuts in their current green state?

    These trees are enormous so if they’re not usable I’m going to save myself the effort of figuring out which friends own ladders, borrowing said ladder, borrowing a truck to carry said ladder, climbing said ladder, etc etc.

    If it’s possible just watch me go!

  • see my previous comment above about using black walnuts -dl

  • hello chez friend!
    i am nervous, because i made my nocino about a month ago and it’s not anywhere near brown-ish. still green-ish. also nervous because russ happened to be making some at the restaurant as well and he’s had his sitting in full blast sun. should i stop worrying and just be patient?

    hope you are well,

    penny

  • Hi Penny! For some reason, sometimes nocino is more green, which usually means it needs more time. Some people do put theirs in full sunlight, but I’ve always just kept mine on the counter. (If you remember, at Chez Panisse, we always kept ours on the top shelf behind the salad station, in the Café.)

    You can wait a little longer (some recipes say to let it sit for 6 months) or perhaps put it in direct sunlight for a while and see if that speeds things up. xx david

  • Cheers man! You are a total dude. I’ve been looking for a walnut liqour recipe for ages. Where I live in England we have a few walnut trees. It’s much cooler here so although it is August, the walnuts are perfect now. I don’t have any vodka, but I have a bottle of eau de vie I have been meaning to use.

  • i just returned from istanbul, where i discovered delicious candied green walnuts. do you think it is possible to candy the walnuts after straining the liqueur?

  • eri: I think the walnuts are pretty well spent of their usefulness once the liqueur is made.

  • Thanks for that lovely and inspiring post. Most of us can do a lot to save the environment if we just spent some more time in the kitchen doing our own recipes instead of shopping for the same items from shops that might be using energy to produce them in large numbers. We at the website of Climatarians maintain a directory of websites that come up with such unique solutions for environmental problems.

  • Hi David,

    Just wanted to say that I love your blog. I’m a Canadian who has lived for 10 years now in the south of France (Côte d’Azur) and I love your recipes as much as the social commentary.

    My neighbour’s walnut tree overhangs into my garden so I WILL DEFINITELY be trying this recipe!! I was wondering about using the alcool à 90° that one can get from the pharmacie as is used for limoncello? Too strong?

    And… one last question – have you ever come across an angel food cake pan here?

    Thanks!!!

    -michelle.

  • Thanks! I’ve not used that strong alcool, and would stick with vodka. I’ve not seen angel food cakes here; I think you’d have to bring one back from the states, or use an unlined (not non-stick) tube-style cake pan.

  • I just discovered this, about 2 months too late. My parents have 3 large black walnut trees–so I’m hoping someone who has made a black walnut version will post if it was any good.

    They subdivided the English Walnut orchards around their house though, so it will take more work to find green English walnuts.

  • I recently moved into a new house in the SF Bay area, and imagine my surprise to discover we have a black walnut tree in our yard. This week, most of the nuts were still soft enough to quarter, but just barely. I made the recipe posted here, and I hope it turns out well!

  • Oh
    My
    God.
    This is absolutely the best Nocino ~ thank you, David, for sharing your method/recipe.

  • I saw this entry last year, post-walnut season and waited patiently until the first opportunity this June to order green walnuts. I was excited to make it for Christmas gifts. I followed the recipe diligently (ok, I didn’t shake every day). It’s been two months and I just tasted it. It’s really high-oxtane. Will it mellow out over time? Did I do something wrong? The lack of shaking? I hope it gets better because I made A LOT of it! Thanks.

  • Since the recipe is basically fortified vodka, yes, it will be high-octane. That’s why I recommend tippling it over vanilla ice cream, although Europeans drink it as a digestive, too!

  • A friend of mine made this years ago, with black walnuts. After waiting a couple of months, she tasted it and despised it. She intended to throw it all away, but instead she just forgot about it for a couple of years, then rediscovered her stash. We tasted it just out of curiosity and it was a gorgeous deep green liqueur, with an incredible perfume. It tasted fantastic.

    I’ve been told that the longer this is aged, the better it becomes. So please don’t let that first taste put you off if it’s too “high octane” (it’s meant to be sipped slowly, in small glasses, after all). It will mellow out in flavour over time.

  • I’m the one from the SF Bay Area who started her black walnut nocino on July 29 (see my comment above). I triple-strained it with a gold coffee filter, and tasted it just now.

    I have to say… it’s very bitter. I’m not sure if this is from the nuts themselves, or perhaps from the cinnamon sticks and cloves? It’s also very sweet, though.

    I wonder if the bitterness will dissipate over time? Or am I just out of luck? Might as well keep it around for a few years to see. But so far? Ick. Please tell me it gets better!

  • Does anyone have artwork to share for pretty nocino labels that you use on your gift bottles? Thank you.