Liqueur and amaro: the best of Sicilian tradition
In the wide range of typical products and food and wine traditions of Sicily, how can we not mention liqueur and amaro of Sicily?
In addition to liqueur wines and red wines, which are now part of the island’s centuries-old tradition and are known throughout the world for the quality of the vines and inimitable flavor, there are many liqueurs (sugars and bitters) that have made some of Sicily’s most renowned raw materials, from Sicilian lemons to prickly pears, more appreciated.
Just to name one, Limoncello, which is immediately associated with the land of Sicily, home of the juiciest and most beautiful lemons in the world. Yet, there is more than just limoncello. The list is so long that in this article we will mention only a few of them, the best and the most well-known.
Ready to take this journey with us to discover Sicily’s finest liqueurs and amari?
Sicilian liqueurs: from fennel to lime
Sicily is famous for good food, from street food to traditional fish and meat dishes, but it also stands out for fine wines and liqueurs. It is a common custom to accompany a lunch or dinner with a glass of good red or white wine from local wineries, but it is also common to end a meal with an amaro “ammazzacaffè” (digestive) or homemade liqueur, perhaps served with ice.
This custom comes, as is almost always the case with the island’s food and wine tradition, from the Arabs themselves. Sicilian liqueurs are rightfully part of the island’s centuries-old culinary tradition and have spread rather quickly both to the rest of Italy and to the rest of the world, thanks in part to Sicilians who expatriated overseas in search of fortune, especially in the Americas.
From Limoncello to Amaretto di Girgenti, from Liquore di Sicilia to Liquore al Fico d’India (prickly pear), the list is practically endless, and in any home you will find a fine bottle of liqueur or amaro, as well as homemade limoncelli and mandarinetti.
Wild fennel liqueur
Wild fennel liqueur is one of those liqueurs that are surprising even from the name, but once tasted give a unique experience and leave an indelible memory.
Wild fennel is a wild summer plant that grows almost everywhere in Sicily, usually in the hills and near the sea. Whether you pick it by hand or buy it, to make wild fennel liqueur you have to use the barbs and stems and have a lot of patience: you have to wait 30 days of steeping in an infusion of alcohol, water and sugar before enjoying it. Wild fennel liqueur is a fresh and digestive herbal distillate that is great to serve after meals.
Mind you, the glass should invariably be chilled and the liqueur served over ice!
The bees of Sortino produce a honey known since ancient times and also mentioned by Varone, Ovid, and Virgil, in a beautiful reserve in eastern Sicily: Pantalica. In this wonderful area of Sicily there are many beekeepers who try their hand at producing the best honey in the world.
This honey comes from the ancient tradition of the so-called “fascitrari” or “fasciddari,” beekeepers who from generation to generation produce honey in the traditional way, without the use of pesticides or modern machinery. Thanks to the splendid hives built with the fascetra, a special wooden tool very common in Sicily, the remains of the honey collected by pressing the combs are processed and recovered through the distillation process to produce a very special alcoholic beverage.
Other ingredients such as citrus fruits or herbs are also added to this. This gives rise to the honey liqueur, a true pride of the eastern territory and, in particular, of the Sortino area in the province of Syracuse.
From the maceration of rose petals in alcohol, a liqueur solution is obtained that is delicately scented, pleasantly refined and pleasant to the taste. We are talking about rosolio, a liqueur of ancient origin that involves the use of fresh rose petals. Beyond the romantic origin of its preparation and name, which evokes the flowers of love par excellence, it seems that this liqueur was invented by nuns in a convent.
Once served in aristocratic circles, today the recipe for rosolio is known almost everywhere and is also prepared at home. Easy to prepare because it involves only three ingredients (fresh rose petals, alcohol and sugar), thanks to its low alcohol content and delicate flavor, it can be enjoyed as a digestive at the end of any meal.
Sicilian limoncello (sicilian gold liquor)
Here is another must-have liqueur from the Sicilian tradition that everyone really likes. Fresh, tasty, perfect for summer, it can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Of course, responsibly, because it has a high alcohol content.
It is made by macerating lemon peels in alcohol (about 10 large lemons per liter of alcohol), to which water and sugar are added after several days. But it is common to prepare this very tasty liqueur with milk instead of water. In this case, you get a creamier consistency and a sweeter, softer taste on the palate. A real treat!
Prepared with organic Sicilian lemons, limoncello can be enjoyed on its own as a digestive, to accompany desserts, but also as a topping for making delicious homemade cakes!
Fico d’India (prickly pear) liqueur
Yes, that’s right! Delicious Sicilian liqueurs can be made from the succulent prickly pears of Sicily. The fruits, stripped of their prickly skins and cut into small pieces, are steeped in high-quality alcohol through an artisanal process that preserves their aroma and intense fragrance.
Once steeping is complete, the infusion is strained and mixed with water and sugar. The addition of sugar will boost the alcohol content, which can reach 22 percent. For those who love the flavors of Sicily and want to enjoy a full-bodied liqueur with a strong and intense taste, prickly pear liqueur is undoubtedly an excellent choice! It can be enjoyed together with traditional Sicilian desserts such as almond desserts or at the end of a meal.
Finally, Fico is made from Sicilian Prickly Pears, specifically from the Roccapalumba area; the fruit has quickly become a typical element in the landscape of the Mediterranean basin, where it has found the ideal climatic conditions to develop; it has therapeutic and depurative properties, as well as moisturizing. The finished product has a sweet taste as the fruit itself, despite its low calories, packs a sugary flavor that is very pleasing to the palate.
Sicilian pistachio liqueur
A recent tradition, Sicilian pistachio liqueur has already conquered the world. Thanks to its prized and well-known main ingredient, pistachio, this liqueur is one of the most beloved for its sweet taste, creamy texture and low alcohol content.
Characterized by the intense aroma of pistachios, which have always been a symbol of authenticity and quality throughout the island, Sicilian pistachio liqueur like that of the Fichera distillery is a creamy liqueur with a round, enveloping taste and the intense, heady aroma of Sicilian pistachios.
How best to savor this liqueur? We can say that it is more of a liqueur cream and that it is perfect for everyone, even those who do not like stronger liqueurs and bitters. The intense pistachio flavor goes perfectly with desserts; it can be used to garnish ice cream or enjoyed alone at the end of a meal. Perfect in both summer and colder seasons.
Arancello and mandarinetto (orange liqueur)
Arancello we can call it the brother of limoncello, and it goes without saying how much this liqueur is appreciated and loved even outside Sicily. Sicilian oranges are now the symbol of the beauty, quality and taste of Sicily all over the world, used in the preparation of drinks, desserts and organic products.
Exactly as with limoncello, the preparation of arancello involves the slow maceration of the peels in alcohol, to which water and sugar are added at a later stage. It is impossible not to be won over by the incredible citrus scent and its vibrant, intense orange color.
Its bold flavor makes tasting it an explosive and satisfying experience for the taste buds and it is a refreshing liqueur, perfect for summer. In fact, it should be served iced, either at the end of meals or to accompany typical desserts and ice cream.
A particular amaro liqueur is Mi-Manda Rino, made with late mandarin from Ciaculli. The term tardivo indicates that its production occurs later than that of other citrus fruits of the same genus and owes its name to the hamlet of Palermo precisely Ciaculli, where it is grown. This variety of mandarin has been included among the Slow Food presidia, possesses a strong aroma and has a very thin skin.
Sicilian amaro are part of the category of Sicilian liqueurs, but they have (as their name implies) a more bitter and less sugary taste than the liqueurs we have just reviewed.
Amaro represents for Sicilians an indispensable table pleasure that worthily closes any self-respecting meal by accompanying the palate with grace and elegance. Amari are almost always enjoyed at the end of a meal, as opposed to sweeter liqueurs.
Drinking a bitter in Sicily, in addition to easing digestion or making an aromatic cocktail, manages to distill all the most harmonious taste of tradition while maintaining constant contact with the past and the history of the territory. Let’s discover some of them together!
Artichoke liqueur is a fragrant and herbaceous-tasting liqueur, ideal as a digestive drink to be enjoyed immediately after dinner. The artichokes, once cleaned, should be steeped in alcohol, and after a couple of weeks, when the artichokes have yielded all their scents, the syrup of sugar and water is added to the alcohol. Et voila!
One of the most popular artichoke bitters is Amaru Sabbenerica, made with artichoke, bay leaf, lemon and other herbs. It possesses an intense, enveloping aroma that captures you from the first sip. The word Sabbenerica is an ancient expression or rather an ancient greeting used until the 1950s by Sicilian grandparents and great-grandparents. Literally it means “blessed be.” It was precisely a form of blessing that was exchanged on the streets of Sicilian villages. Usually the “sabbenerica” was answered “to you and your friends” or more rarely “santu e riccu” (May you be holy and rich), as a form of wishing you a wonderful day.
Verdello lemon rosolio is one of the most popular digestives in the Sicilian territory. Its taste and freshness accompanies the meals of lunches and dinners especially in summer. Verdello is used in Sicily for the preparation of slushies and ice creams, but also in confectionery as the main ingredient in cakes and pies.
Among the verdello amaro of Sicily is Turiddu, made with Verdello lemon, harvested in the months from July to September. Turiddu is also the name we have given to the protagonist of all our labels, and it is a reinterpretation of a typical Sicilian name, Salvatore.
Lime liqueur is an alcoholic drink with an intense and fresh flavor, perfect for ending a meal. By following the steps in our recipe you will not be able to go wrong and you will get a really good liqueur. Lime or limetta is a citrus fruit, which probably comes from the union of lemon and citron, although not all experts agree on its origin. Grown in countries with subtropical climates, lime is native to Asia, India and Malaysia, from where it was once exported to England and used in place of lemon to counter scurvy (a disease due to vitamin C deficiency) during long periods of sailing.
Among the Sicilian lime amari to discover is Vossia (“Your Lordship“), a liqueur made with only Sicilian Lime peels from the Syracuse area. The very intense flavor and aroma of this delicious citrus fruit make it a multipurpose product, perfect for making drinks and also excellent after meals.
Sicilian liqueur and amaro: the tradition lives on
We reviewed some of the best and most beloved amari liqueurs of Sicily. From an ancient Arab custom came a way of living and sharing a moment, of enjoying more of the traditional dishes and of enhancing all the flavor and aroma of the Sicilian land.
Drinking an amaro is not reduced to a mere moment of conviviality, but also becomes a way to feel good, to ease digestion or to enrich a cocktail and make it more aromatic. Sicilian liqueur speaks of tradition but also follows fashion and looks to the future, telling the story of its land and bringing unique stories and traditions to the world.
We are curious to know if you have ever tasted one of these Sicilian liqueurs or if you have tried to prepare it at home. Would you like to share your experience, your personal recipe or let us know about your brand of Sicilian liqueurs and bitters? Well, write to us!