Liqueurs and Spirits
The liqueurs from the Marches belong to an ancient tradition which is tied to the presence of numerous monasteries. These, until the Fifteenth century, were dedicated to the preparation of drinks which are still today produced by many distilleries with respect to the ancient recipes. One product amongst these is particularly well known: the anice (aniseed) liqueur, in consideration of the fact that the raw material was produced in large quantities, particularly in the area of Ascoli Piceno. At the beginning of the Eighteen hundreds, the distillation passed from the monasteries to private businesses.
Silvio Meletti, proprietor of the historical café in piazza del Popolo, launched anisetta Meletti, a sweet and delicate product which can be drunk in the morning and is also excellent accompanying a dessert, whereas diluted with water, it is thirst quenching and facilitates the digestion. Some drink it with the «fly», a few coffee beans covered with the liqueur, as is the practice in Rome with Sambuca.
The old café Meletti, after a few years of closure, reopened its doors, newly refurbished, at the beginning of the year 1999, thanks to the undertaking of the Cassa di Risparmio di Ascoli Piceno bank, and has launched again the people of Ascoli’s much loved tradition of sipping anisetta..
At San Leo, the ancient balsamo Cagliostro is produced. It is said to have been created by Cagliostro himself, but the hypothesis is most unlikely. The poor man, imprisoned by the Papacy which disapproved of his Masonic practices, spent years of detention closed in a cell, receiving food through a trap door in the ceiling. He went mad and left the prison only after his death. Under these conditions it would have been very difficult for him to experiment with balms and liqueurs. This, however, has no bearing on the fact that balsamo Cagliostro is an excellent digestive with a base of liquorice roots, without the addition of colourings and artificial substances.
Another liqueur from the Marches destined to having a widespread popularity is the Caffe' Sport Borghetti, a concentrated-bomb of coffee and liqueur created in the Eighteen hundreds by the owner of the well known Ancona café to celebrate the inauguration of the railway line Bologna-Pescara-Ancona.
In 1868, the herbalist Giacomo Varnelli began producing the «amaro Sibilla» (‘Sibylline bitters’), obtained from the herbs and roots found on the Sibylline Mountains with the addition of honey. It was immediately a great success. The company still exists today and the heirs belonging to the fourth generation produce an excellent mistrà made with an infusion of green aniseed with a high alcohol base and sometimes with the addition of star anice. Both mistrà and anisette are born from the custom of aromatising the alcohol which has been extracted from the grape residues. Of intermediate alcoholic strength, it is rich in the aroma and virtues of the herbs used. Mistrà (from Misithra or Misistra, the Byzantine city from which the Venetians imported aniseed liqueur) is widely diffused in the areas of Ascoli and Macerata, and today is the best well known and the most characteristic of the liqueurs of the Marches.
The company also produces the liqueurs «persico», «caffè moka» and «mandarino». The «persico», aged for over twenty years, has an intense and delicate flavour of peach and is used as an ingredient in cocktails and long drinks, or for aromatising sparkling wines and champagne. The «caffè moka», of moderate strength, is pure coffee without the addition of essences and colourings; it is served straight with dessert or poured over ice cream. The «mandarino» is, on the other hand, a sweet liqueur obtained from the fruit of the same name and can be enjoyed straight, mixed or as a punch.
Mistrà, due to its intense aromas, is served straight or added to a cup of coffee. It is also excellent as a digestive, but can also be thirst quenching when diluted with chilled natural water. It is exquisite in small doses on a lemon sorbet and can liven up the flavour of pastry creams.
In cooking, it is used to flambé the already cooked coniglio in porchetta (rabbit flavoured with bherbs) and for marinating carpaccio (thinly sliced, raw beef fillet).
MORETTA DI FANO
The moretta from Fano is born from an intriguing story: it is said that, originally, it was an empirical formula invented in a bar in Fano for lacing a cup of coffee drunk before and after a trip sea fishing. It is a mixture of rum, aniseed and brandy and can be drunk straight, but best of all with the addition of a cup of very hot coffee.
This is also an ancient preparation which is a way of using grape must. It is prepared by boiling down the must squeezed from white and red grapes to two thirds of its original quantity. As soon as it cools, this thick and sweet syrup is poured into glass bottles where it is preserved for a long time. It is used for dressing polenta or in the preparation of cakes.
VINO COTTO (cooked wine)
This is a homemade preparation which has its roots in the farming civilisation and is in use mostly in the areas around Macerata and Fermo.
It was reserved for special occasions such as for the harvest; upon the birth of a male son, a barrel was put aside to be used on the day of his wedding; vino cotto was also applied to the arms and legs of newborn children to give them strength.
It is obtained from a mix of different qualities and types of grape which are first pressed in a mechanical press and then in a hydraulic press. The must is cooked in copper cauldrons over a wooden fire until it has become not over twenty per cent of the initial quantity. While it is cooking, the froth is skimmed off, removing the impurities, then it is transferred, still boiling, into small barrels where it is kept for many years. Its sale is not permitted.
This is a wine called up from the back of the memory, since the custom of preparing it had almost disappeared. Nowadays, it is made in the houses in some of the areas around Ancona, Pesaro and Macerata. Some prepare it with the new wine, and others with aged wine but in either case, the main ingredient is the visciola cherry, a wild cherry of the Prunus cerasus species, similar to the amarena (sour cherry). One way of making it is by drying the visciole cherries in the sun and then crushing them and adding them to the wine of the year before. The mixture is fermented until it has the right flavour, blocking it with the addition of alcohol which also helps to equilibrate the large quantity of sugars.
Another way is to add visciole cherry syrup to the red wine must and, after an incomplete fermentation, to adjust it with alcohol to equilibrate the flavour and to guarantee its ageing.
It is a classic dessert wine which combines well with traditional countryside cakes. It is often offered free of charge as a sign of hospitality.