You are not what you eat, but how well you digest. Have you heard that before? This saying- an old Italian proverb- emphasizes the fact that digestion is a vital issue among Italians, second only, perhaps to the sanctified place the liver holds in governing their bodily harmony. It is no wonder that Italians have invented more than 300 different kinds of after-dinner digestive drinks for relieving the heaviness that often follows their meals of pasta, bread, meat, potatoes, and then dessert. Digestives are known in Italy by the generic term amari, which refers to their bitterness.
It is most often both bitter and sweet and sometimes syrupy. Amari are typically produced by macerating several (sometimes several dozen) herbs and roots. herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels in alcohol, either a neutral spirit or wine, mixing it with simple syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in casks or in bottle. Commercially produced amari may contain “natural flavorings” and caramel coloring. Every region in Italy has its own typical amaro depending on the herbs, trees, or plants found there, and the recipes are almost always a tightly-held secret amongst the families/monastaries/industries whom produce them, many often originated in monasteries or pharmacies back in the 19 th century. Some producers list the ingredients in some detail on the bottle label, and some do not list anything at all.
Dozens of varieties are commercially produced, the most commonly available of which are Averna, Ramazzotti, Lucano, Fernet-Branca, and Montenegro. Fernet was first produces in Milan in 1845, derived from Dr. Fernet, a Swedish physician whose formula of herbs and spices cured in oak casks was perfected by the Branca brothers and is unaltered today- it is probably tho most widely known amaro in the world, as well as one of the strongest. Averna is made in Caltanissetta, Sicilia, where it was first produced in 1868, and today it is one of the most popular digestives among Italians with a milder herbal flavor than Fernet or Ramazzotti. The Bolognese Montenegro has a delicate aroma, golden brown color, and a slightly sweet taste.
Less than one hour drive south-east of Rome lies our region this month- Ciociaria- a region undefined by exact borders, no true historical identity, yet untouched by mass tourism and a perfect day trip from Italy’s capitol. At Babbo we are very fond of amari, and Amaro Ciociaro (a staff favorite) produced by the Paolucci family, hails from the hills in Ciociaria. Lightly colored, and reminiscent of thyme and rosemary, this amaro has just enough sweetness to play with the slight herbal tones.
Most commonly served neat, but amaro is also is enjoyed with a citrus wedge, on the rocks, or mixed with seltzer or tonic water. However, sip unhurriedly, they usually 40 to 90 proof.
This month, join us for a glass of amaro! Your digestion will thank you.