A recent family trip to Lugano led me on a search for a regional product from Ticino known as Nocino. This walnut-flavored liqueur with a dark brown hue appears on the inventory of products from Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse (Culinary Heritage of Switzerland). It makes an excellent food souvenir or gift from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton. Want to know more? Here are 10 facts about this Swiss digestive:
1. Green walnuts – Nocino, the diminutive of noce (walnut in Italian) gets it flavor from macerated green walnuts. Grappa, a brandy made from grapes, serves as its base ingredient. Picked early in the season, sliced walnuts still in their husks soak in the grappa to develop its flavor.
2. Saint Giovanni – In Ticino, they say that the green walnuts should be harvested on the night before June 24, the feast day for San Giovanni (Saint John the Baptist), at the latest.
3. Also known as Ratafià – This drink also goes by the name Ratafià. This other name refers more generally to the range of liqueurs of this type. For example, you can make a ratafià with other ingredients, such as laurel berries, basil, persimmons or cherries.
4. The name Ratafià may come from Latin phrases that use “rata fiat,” which can mean, “to ratify” or “to consider it done”. Historically, people involved in some type of negotiations would apparently take a swig of ratafià as a sign that a deal had been reached.
5. Convento Santa Maria dei Frati Cappuccini – In the Swiss canton of Ticino, although we don’t know the exact history of its origin, Nocino has existed for over a century within the Convent of Santa Maria dei Frati Cappuccini in Bigorio. You can still buy bottles of it at this convent, made with its original recipe. Please remember though, this drink does not only exist in Switzerland. You’ll find it across the border in Italy, as well, where the Swiss may have originally gotten the idea.
6. Sugar and spices – Sweetened with sugar, Nocino also contains spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and lemon peel. Other possibilities can include coffee beans, mace and juniper berries.
7. How to make Nocino – The Museo del Malcantone in Curio, Switzerland, has shared a recipe that calls for 2 kilograms of grappa, to which you add 39 quartered walnuts and spices. The clear glass container then must be placed in the sunshine for 40 days. During that time, you must shake the container every day. After this period, you boil it with 400 grams of water and 1 kilogram of sugar. When the mixture has cooled, you filter out the plant matter and bottle it for future use.
8. Serving Nocino – The Ticinese use Nocino to “correct” their coffee. Known as a Caffè corretto, it’s when you add a dash of liqueur to your coffee or espresso for a little extra flavor. Personally, I think a glass of this drink goes well with a slice of Panettone during the holiday season. Or, maybe you would prefer pouring some over a scoop of walnut or vanilla ice cream.
9. Cooking with Nocino – Swiss blogger, Helvetic Kitchen, has developed a biscotti recipe with Nocino. These homemade biscotti would make a wonderful gift, paired with a bottle of Nocino. Another enticing recipe comes from Swissmilk: Semifreddo al Nocino. This dessert has two components – a frozen mousse and a walnut brittle topping, both of which are spiked with Nocino.
10. Where to buy Nocino – I purchased my bottle of organic Nocino from Bianchi at Gabbani, a Lugano food retailer since 1937. If you can’t make it to Ticino, you can also purchase it from this store online. Farmy, an online shop for regional food products in Switzerland, also has Nocino made by Nadine Saxer available for purchase .
- Nocino (Ratafià), Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse
- The Nocino, Agenzia turistica ticinese
- Nocino, Ticino Top Ten
- Ratafià (Nocino), Museo del Malcantone
- Quali sono i liquori e i distillati più amati dai ticinesi?, 20 Minuti (March 2018).
- Smith, Andrew F., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (2007).