With Italian pop music blaring through the speakers, Francesco Amodeo cuts his way through more than 300,000 walnuts over the course of two days.
As the president and master distiller at Washington, D.C.’s Don Ciccio & Figil, Amodeo hand-cuts each of the California green walnuts for the nocino. The two days of hand-cutting is intensive, and the entire process of making this traditional Italian liqueur takes nearly a year from harvest to sale.
Born and raised in Italy, Amodeo uses a family recipe that dates back to 1933. The walnuts are harvested in June and must be cut before June 24; they are then left to macerate for at least six months. By the time the spirit is ready for sale, it’s April or May, and the process starts all over again.
“When they’re green, they’re so soft you just cut them with a knife, but after the 24th, they get hard and it’s like the snack you buy at the store,” Amodeo elaborates. “We do that in May and June and by Labor Day we add cinnamon and clove to the liquid. After the 6th of January, we start the distillation.”
Not many distilleries in the U.S. have ventured into the nocino territory. Only Ohio’s Watershed Distillery, Michigan’s Long Road Distillers, Indiana’s Cardinal Spirits, Washington’s Skip Rock Distillery, and a few others make American nocinos.
Amodeo opened his distillery in 2011 and released his first round of product in October 2012, which makes Don Ciccio & Figil one of the first distilleries in the D.C. area since Prohibition. He likes to distance himself from other distilleries by focusing only on traditional Italian spirits — several fruit liqueurs, multiple amari and aperitivi, and Concerto, a barley and espresso spirit with 15 botanicals — not a collection of vodka, gin and whiskies. The tagline for Don Ciccio & Figil: “Discover the Amalfi Coast in Washington, D.C.”
Amodeo says there are several ways to enjoy nocino. Whether it’s neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, the walnut and gingerbread cookie notes will be showcased.
“There’s the old grandpa style, that’s at the end of the meal, straight,” he explains. “What our company is about is yes, you can drink it by itself, on ice or cold from the fridge, but you can mix it with a cocktail to bring everything up to a next level.”
If you can get your hands on a bottle of nocino, we suggest trying it out in one (or both) of this cocktail recipes from Don Ciccio & Figil nocino recipes.
Tell Me About It
- 1 oz non-aged whiskey
- 1 oz nocino
- 1.25 oz cold-brewed coffee
- .25 oz maraschino liqueur
- Orange twist
Method: Stir and serve up with orange twist.
Walnut Old Fashioned
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- 1 oz nocino
- Dash of angostura bitters
- Orange slice
Method: Muddle orange slice with bitters. Add nocino and whiskey. Serve on ice
Featured image courtesy of izzzy71/Getty Images.