Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Maraschino - Wrapped in Tradition

Kings ordered it, Balzac wrote about it, Hemingway and Hitchcock had a hankering for it. It even went down with the Titanic --Maraschino the clear spirit distilled from the marasca sour cherry has been a sought after drink by royals and celebrities for centuries.

The liqueur, first distilled by Dominican monks in Zadar in the 16th century for medicinal purposes, went on to become the official gift and souvenir of Zadar. A unique symbol of Croatia, the traditional liqueur is making its way back into the international market after years of interruption to production during the war.

Today, just outside of old town Zadar, the Maraska Company is producing Maraschino from their prized orchards of marasca sour cherries. Yet before manufacturing could return to normal, the orchards had to be restored. Unfortunately the orchards were planted with more than cheery trees during the war-- landmines were planted there too. But with the help of government grants and funds from UNESCO, the trees were saved and the historic orchards were cleared. Currently the Maraska plantation has over 100,000 trees producing fruit.

I asked our host Igor Zupancic if the landmines had been purposefully placed in the orchards to destroy a part of the heritage and cultural identity. He diplomatically answered—“You’ll have to ask the other side that question.”

The marasca sour cherry is known for it’s distinctive aroma and has a very tight harvest window. All the cherries must be picked within a few days of reaching their peak between 22 to 25 brix.

We tasted the many products Maraska makes today starting with the refreshing 100% fruit juices and moving up to the cherry brandies and liqueurs. The brandy was delicious and not overly sweet as I thought it might be. But the Maraschino was the real surprise. Clear and slightly viscous, it had a vivid cherry scent and was quite smooth for a 64 Proof beverage-- even at 11am in the morning.

 The traditional woven wicker basket around the Maraschino bottles was developed to protect them in transport and give it a distinguishing image. We proved the protection factor theory as five bottles of Maraska Maraschino rolled around in the press van for six days without mishap. Well, four rolled around, one we drank.

Maraschino is best served well chilled in a glass with a high neck to focus its particular esters. It’s also great in cocktails. I tried several of their recommend cocktails found on their web site and invented one of my own I call the Cherry Bomb--

Cherry Bomb
1 shot Maraschino
1 shot Gin
½ oz Cherry juice
Splash of Grenadine
Dash of Lime juice
Garnish with cherry
Serve over ice and Enjoy

For more information on the history of Maraschino and a wonderful archive of product labels, visit the Maraska web by clicking on the photo below.

Links to previous Croatia Posts:
Croatia Part 1: Bibich Dégustation
Croatia Part 2: The Splendors of Split
Croatia Part 4- Zadar, The Perfect Date

Monday, January 16, 2012

Road Trip in Italy with the Fabulous Fabio

After the International Wine Tourism Conference blogger trip ends in Naples, I will leave the carefully orchestrated world of the media trip and enter the twilight zone of possibilities.

I can imagine your hands slapped up to the side of your face when I tell you I'm going on a road trip with Fabio. (No, not that Fabio from bodice ripper romance novels, the Fabio I’m talking about is not blonde or famous…yet.)

I worked for Fabio at the Touring Club of Italy, where he was the Director of the International Department. We became fast friends and even better, Fabio's friends (of which there are legions) became my friends too. There is probably not a single part of Italy in which Fabio does not know someone and I don't mean casually, he really knows people everywhere. When I travel in Italy all I need to do is to utter the words "Fabio sent me” and immediately a room is prepared, another plate set at the table. 

The last time I was careening around Italy with Fabio I ended up in the hospital, and I owe him my life for ignoring my insistence that I was fine, and taking me directly to the local emergency room. But that was a few years ago and I'm up for another adventure to the deep dark corners and the farthest reaches of the 'boot'.

I've had more memorable adventures with Fabio than almost anyone else in my life. Heck, all my best stories have Fabio in them. (And in my soon to be completed book Come for the Wine, Stay for the Surgery, Fabio is a major character.) 

There's no one more fun and spontaneous than Fabio. He'll take you to small family producers of wines, olive oils and cheeses, to secret restaurants, local sagres and indigenous food festivals, and way off the track hiking trails. Some of which you'll never be able to find again, but that's what makes it um...special. Traveling with Fabio gives new meaning to the oft-maligned word 'authentic'.

Finally, after many years of people urging him to share all his insider knowledge of Italy, he's partnered with a gastronomy tour business called Die Genussreise based in Germany and is also promoting the tours and services of Adagio con Brio to independent travelers as well. Check out the Facebook page here.

It's about time. Fabio is the most affable and charming polyglot you will ever meet. If you want an off-the-chart experience, have Fabio pick you up at the airport and then just let it all unfold. Equal parts guide, gastronome, raconteur, and bon vivant, Fabio has everything you need in a travel companion. Nobody road trips better than Fabio.

So it is with glee and excitement that I look forward to our five-day road trip around Puglia and then up to Rome for four days where I'll be on a quest to find the best negronis and wander the streets where my grandmother, my namesake, was born. 

I'll be tweeting and posting about it here. And just to be on the safe side -- this time I've purchased MedEvac insurance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Year in Books: What I Read in 2011

Image used by permission: Elle Moss Photography

Back in December I was included in a World Hum feature on travel books read in 2011, but the books I mentioned in the piece were just the tip of the page soaked iceberg I ran into this year. I read less in 2011, averaging 2 - 3 books a month down from my usual 4, but I was also reading numerous travel magazines like AFAR and lit journals such as All-Story, Lucky Peach, Creative NonFiction and Alimentum that I did not include here.

I'm toying with the idea of getting an E-reader just to make travel easier. But I love my paper books so much. I wish there was an option to buy a hard copy book and bundle the kindle or e-version in with it so you essentially get a book in all formats for one set price. I'd buy that. I know I'd love the convenience of an E-reader but I'd miss my towering stacks of books.

I am respectful of my books. I cherish them and read them gently. I try to keep them as pristine as possible. The one and only big fight I ever had with my husband was over the fact that he mauls books when he reads them. Cracks the spines, and soaks the pages with bath water or coffee. I know, I know, there are worse things, but man-handling a book is a crime on par with arson in my opinion.

Here is a view of what I read in 2011. Many books are missing. I've started to I give them away when I travel. Not included are the guide books, cookbooks and wine reference books I also read this year, but the stack was high enough already.

Highlights from the stacks:

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer
This collection of essays and stories had a lot of material I was already familiar with, but some great new pieces too.

The Battle for Wine and Love by Alice Feiring
I finally got around to reading this and while there were some strange repetitions in the telling of her story it was an enjoyable romp all the same. 

Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Joan Didion on life, death and introspection. What more do you need to know?

Larry's Kidney by Daniel Asa Rose
So weird and beyond surreal you just have to check it out for yourself.

I probably should add a link to each and every tittle shown in the photos, but I figure you can enlarge the picture to read the spines and you know how to find the books on your own. Besides... I've got a stack of new books calling out for my attention!

Happy Reading in 2012!


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