Maraschino: all you need to know about the legendary cherry liqueur
Maraschino is a liqueur of Italian origin, typical of old Dalmatia, produced from the fermentation of a must (wine) of cherries (called morello cherries, hence the name) and its subsequent distillation. Maraschino is a product of the great Italian tradition, born as an artisanal distillate, typical of a territory that for centuries was Italian, indeed it was part of the Republic of Venice.
Today, unfortunately, industrial morello cherries dominate and trivially it is considered only a cheap sweetener for making cocktails, but it is much more. It was the classic liqueur to be served as an aperitif to guests, it was a splendid way to finish a hearty meal and has always been a valid ally at home, to help in the preparation of desserts and various dishes. But it’s sweet you might object! How can we serve it as an aperitif? Just serve it at a low temperature and its sweetness will be attenuated: 6 ° is the right temperature, try and rediscover a forgotten treasure.
History of Maraschino
Maraschino was called cherry rosolio, a name that since the Renaissance has been used as a synonym for a liqueur since all liqueurs were rosili, that is a solution of water, sugar, alcohol and a flavoring. Legend has it that it has been produced in Zadar since the dark times of the Middle Ages, obviously sheltered from the din of civilizations, within the walls of the monks’ convents. Especially the oldest recipe, dating back to 1500, seems to derive from the experiments of the apothecaries of a Dominican monastery in Zadar.
How Maraschino is produced
The processing of this noble distillate is extremely complex and long, just think that alcohol comes from the distillation of fruits and therefore it is not a simple liqueur made with maceration, but a distillate that becomes liqueur through a subsequent flavoring with cherries. It is no small difference, especially if we compare it to the Triple Sec, its more “dangerous” competitor, the other great sweetener used in mixing. The Triple Sec starts with an infusion of oranges in grain alcohol and is then also distilled three times, but not the basic alcohol does not carry with it the aromas and flavors of cherries. This is the main difference and this also means that Maraschino is a liqueur that you cannot make at home like limoncello: there are no home recipes. At most, you can make a rosolio or a cherry liqueur, but not the original recipe! Also because, as we will see immediately, the production of maraschino is a very laborious process.
The Morello cherries are usually harvested in July, pitted and pressed in vats where the juice, pulp, and seeds will begin to ferment, thanks to the indigenous yeasts present on the fruit and in the air. Nothing new: a cherry wine is produced and known all over the world for millennia. The stones are important, so they are not removed immediately, but only after a partial fermentation: they must help to give consistency and aromatic volume to the fermented product. We say partial fermentation because not all the sugar is transformed into alcohol, rather the fermentation is ended by adding alcohol.
At this point, the alcohol is filtered and the cherries are pressed with typical horizontal presses, until large discs are obtained, almost like compressed cherry tiles. But they are not to be thrown away, the opposite is essential! The famous cakes are immersed in alcohol and left to infuse to flavor it. Triple distillation is then carried out to concentrate the alcohol and make it purer and then the distillate rests for 3 years in large ash barrels.
The process of entrusting it is delicate, it must be long and not very flavourful, it must respect the purity of the distillate: its main feature. This particular wood makes the Maraschino refine, but does not release tannins, which therefore remains transparent and free from strong and woody flavors. After refinement, the Maraschino is brought to an alcohol content of 32 degrees by adding pure water and is then sweetened and then bottled.
Organoleptic characteristics of Maraschino
It is a sweet and velvety liqueur, full of ethereal and pungent aromas of red fruit, currants in alcohol, mint and peppery tones. It is not very spicy and focuses on delicate floral freshness. On the palate, it is soft, greedy, with a decadent and round taste.
How to serve the Maraschino
It is an excellent liqueur, to always have at hand. Serve it at a temperature of 4 degrees, in small glasses as an aperitif or as a digestive.
What cocktails to make with Maraschino
We have said that it has the same sweetening function as the triple sec, but beware the triple sec is smooth and spicy, while the maraschino is sweet but warm and smooth. It is an ingredient present in great cocktails such as Mary Pickford, Hemingway Special, Martinez cocktail, Last Word cocktail, Tuxedo, Casino, Brooklyn, Brandy Crusta, Harvey Wallbanger.