History of Nocillo, the magical liqueur of Sannio

by Federico Quagliuolo

Nocillo di Cerreto Sannita is the liqueur that brings you together superstition and science. It is in fact a drink made from the husk of nuts, which are one of the specialty of the Sannio, and is nicknamed "elixir of witches“, Just to stay on the Benevento theme.
It is a digestive known more or less throughout Italy and it was traditionally produced by pharmacies because of his powers sedatives, in addition to the exceptional efficacy against fever. Even poured in drops on the gums to heal the toothache!
In some countries it is still called "medicine“, Tying it right to hers origins.
Today almost all pharmacies who produced it are disappear, replaced by industrial establishments. Yet one can still find some in the homes of grandparents ancient label like the one in the photograph.

Nocillo bottiglia
A bottle of "Elisir di Noce" produced in San Lorenzello da Pescitelli no longer exists.

A female witchcraft

The history of the Nocillo Samnite it is lost in the mists of time and unfortunately there are no certain documents or sources on its birth. Tradition has it that, in the magical St. John's night (June 24th), the women gathered of the Samnite villages in the walnut groves to collect the best immature nuts to use to prepare the liqueur. According to a peasant belief, that is the day when the fruits are harvested. More scientific reasons show that, at the end of June, the fruits reach the point.

The day of the walnut harvest it varies between the traditions of all of Italy, going from early June to September, when the ripe fruits are easily detached from the husk. This is an aspect of no small importance, in that the day the walnuts are harvested is the determining factor for the flavor of the Nocillo.

Following the legend of the night of San Giovanni, the problem of the night was undoubtedly the total absence of lighting. A problem offset by fires lit with brushwood, in order to illuminate the work area and allow the choice of suitable fruits. It goes without saying that this scene, seen from a distance, was immediately associated with a witches' saba which, according to tradition, takes place precisely during the summer solstice.
In fact, the feast of St. John the Baptist is one of the most famous days of Italian peasant traditions and is related to hundreds of parties and legends throughout the peninsula.
To make superstitions even stronger is added precisely the Walnut tree, which is a magical plant traditionally associated with janare.

Many men of the country, influenced by the "black magic" scenes taking place every year in the fields, they took a drastic decision: better not to delve into the origins of such a good liqueur. The rumor than approaching the fields on the occasion of the night of San Giovanni wore bad and women were like that leave alone. Other peasants, however, could not accept witchcraft in one's own field. And so some came to bind to trees all night long a bit like Ulysses in the vicinity of the sirens, so you can attend the rituals without getting involved in the black magic of the Nocillo. Others were capable of boycott their own crops cutting the branches of the trees so as not to bring the witches near.

Storia del Nocillo, il liquore magico del Sannio

The Nocillo recipe, a secret affair

Each pharmacy had its own secret recipe and, unfortunately, many recipes have been lost between family diatribes, jealousies and the desire not to divulge the formula, as if sharing the recipe were like open your own front door to a band of unworthy thieves. Cerreto is told that some old pharmacists have written in their own will not to divulge the secrets of their nocilli.
The liqueur, which also has digestive properties, is an expert mixture of spices and fermented nuts in alcohol. The taste has a fine aroma, but an extremely taste decisive and with a bitter aftertaste.

Immature nuts, usually more than 20, go cut into four parts. The husk is then placed in a sealed container, in order to do so ferment with alcohol for 40 days.
Some shake it every night, while others leave it motionless all the time.
After the first 40 days they go added the aromas, which are the secret ingredient of the Nocillo recipe. By "flavorings" we mean cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lime and cinchona, but there are those who add also herbs like rocket. And still there are those who macerate in alcohol 10 coffee beans raw and 10 toasted (or different quantities). In short, only the fantasy and the experimentation allow the creation of the perfect recipe which, we hope, is disclosed.
Then you have to wait another 20 days. And finally it can be filtered.

If the walnuts were picked on June 24, around August 4 comes the time to prepare the syrup: 400ml of water and 300g of sugar must be mixed in boiling water. Once everything has cooled down, you can add the mixture to the filtered alcohol. Then it can be bottled.

The Nocillo it keeps very well for 5 years, as long as you don't finish much sooner, between a lunch and a party!

-Federico Quagliuolo

References:
https://www.lucianopignataro.it/a/o-nucillo-ancora-qualche-giorno-di-tempo-per-raccogliere-le-noci/45015/
https://www.vivitelese.it/2018/07/la-nzilla-di-san-giovanni-a-cerreto-sannita-brevi-riflessioni/

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1 Comment

Alexander 24 November 2020 - 20:47

It is the nocillo of my grandfather Luigi di Cerreto Sannita. As a kid I "split" the walnuts and my hands became black.Alessandro Pescitelli

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