“I wear my lipstick pressed, Maraschino cherry red. And we wear our hair a mess, ’cause we just got out of bed.” – Corinne Bailey Rae
It’s time to bring on another miracle product. The further you delve into the world of cocktails, the more you realize that behind a lot of the great cocktails there are a few beautiful ingredients that are just sneaking their way in. They’re the ingredients that are in every great bar, but you’ve never really noticed them. In an earlier issue we discussed orgeat, and today we’ll touch on another one: maraschino.
First off, say it with me. The liquor is pronounced mare-uh-SKEE-no, while the cherries – which we’ll discover are closely linked to the alcohol – are pronounced the more familiar mare-uh-SHEE-no. You’re gonna get arguments about this one, but believe me – this is the way they say it back in the old country.
Maraschino was first produced in 1759 by Francesco Drioli, a Venetian merchant. He began production in Zara, the capital of Dalmatia, which at the time was in the Venetian Republic but today is part of Croatia. By the end of the 18th Century, his maraschino liqueur had gained widespread fame across Europe, and in 1804 the Austrian Emperor granted Drioli’s factory the title Imperial Regia Privilegiata which entitled it to use the Austrian Imperial Coat of Arms. Over time it was also given the right to use the coats of arms from the royal households of Great Britain and Italy.
In 1817 Girolamo Luxardo, a Genovese businessman, moved to Zara. It was his wife, Maria, who began perfecting “rosolio maraschino” – basically the same maraschino liqueur that Zara was used to, but she also researched the recipes being used in the various Dalmatian convents, and she incorporated what she found, eventually coming up with her version of maraschino – Luxardo. Her company would go on to become the largest and most well-known producer of maraschino in the world.
Luxardo continued to produce maraschino in Zara until, during the second world war, the factory was destroyed by bombing runs. Only one member of the family, Giorgio Luxardo, survived the war and he fled to Italy, escaping with only a single cherry sapling. Giorgio crossed the Adriatic Sea to the Veneto region of northeast Italy and reconnected with a colleague who had saved the Luxardo recipe book, armed with these tools and a desire to reestablish his family’s legacy, Giorgio chose the small Veneto city of Torreglia to rebuild the distillery in 1946. In this new home Luxardo once again began production and it continues to export maraschino to bars around the world today. But the move from Zara to Torreglia has led to some confusion over the nationality of maraschino, with most people believing that it actually originated in Italy, and there are still arguments about whether the true maraschino hails from the east coast or the west coast of the Adriatic.
So what exactly is maraschino? Technically it’s a liqueur obtained from the distillation of cherries, specifically Marasca cherries. Compared to other cherries, Marasca cherries are darker, almost black, and have a more bitter and a drier flavour which is augmented in the alcohol by the fact that the cherry pits are included in the fermentation process. The resulting liquid is clear, thick – almost syrupy. It doesn’t have much of a smell, and it has a very unique flavour – I’ve tasted a lot of different liquors, and I can’t think of anything that tastes quite like it, although apricot liqueur comes closest. The Luxardo brand is easy to recognize as it comes in a tall bottle wrapped in a straw cover (known as a “fiasco”), meant to mimic a Ventian method for transporting bottles on long sea voyages.
While I’ve really only mentioned the Luxardo brand (it’s just my favourite, no product placement here), there are certainly others. Maraska is one brand still produced in Croatia. It’s sweeter than Luxardo, and it has a slightly more alcoholic smell to it. Lazzarroni is another Italian brand, although that company is most famous for producing another alcohol: Amaretto. Their version of maraschino is less alcoholic than the other brands (25% compared to 32%) and is a little drier, and in Italy it’s marketed as both a liqueur and as a baker’s ingredient.
So whatever brand you end up using, make this a staple of your cabinet. Its uniqueness, and its versatility will come back to reward you time and time again.
And so, let’s get to the recipes…
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