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The holidays are a wonderful time to try new cocktails and new liqueurs! Here are a few Italian favorites – and staples – that will be a unique and pleasant surprise for you and your guests!

Strega

One of Italy’s largest selling liqueurs, Strega has been produced in Benevento since 1860. It was Giuseppe Alberti who discovered monks from the town who made this liqueur. He eventually coaxed the secret recipe from them and started to produce it as Alberti Medical Elixer. It did not sell. So he renamed it “Strega.” Strega in Italian is the word for witch! He took it one step further and marketed the product as witch’s love potion and then it was a hit! As you read below you will also learn about the incredible influence Strega has had since it hit the market.

Strega is a delicate liqueur with digestive qualities. It is made up of a number of herbs such as mint, fennel and saffron (the world’s most expensive spice) which gives it a bright yellow color. The company says only a few people left in the world have this secret recipe. Strega is 80 proof which is similar to gin, vodka or whiskey. Strega is a very popular liqueur in Italy and in Benevento you see it everywhere. Italians are very proud of this unique liqueur. You can also find Strega in a very popular Italian candy called Torrone, which is honey, egg whites, herbs and roasted almonds.

An interesting fact: For over 40 years, the Società Strega has given out one of the most prestigious literary awards. This prize is awarded each year to a recently published Italian novel judged to be of particular merit by a jury of over 400 authors, journalists, actors and other prominent personalities. Almost all major Italian authors, people such as Moravia, Soldati, Bassani, Pavese and others have received this significant distinction.

Strega can be purchased at Total Wine & More for $33.99 a bottle.

Sambuca

Sambuca was created approximately 130 years ago but became popular after World War II. Sambuca is a delicious liqueur made from anise so it has a licorice flavor. I have many fond memories of my father and uncles pouring Sambuca into their espresso! Sambuca is a very sweet liqueur so it acts like sugar in your coffee. You can drink it neat as well, or over ice, but if you drink it neat the tradition is to drink it alongside three coffee beans representing health, happiness and prosperity. The bitterness of the coffee bean is offset by the extreme sweetness of Sambuca. This liqueur is approximately 38 proof which makes it easier to drink. If you add water you will see the ouzo effect just like the Greek drink. Water and Sambuca create a cloudy liquid and is simply delicious!

Sambuca can be purchased at your local grocery store chain such as Albertson’s or Ralph’s as well as Total Wine & More for approximately $23.99 a bottle.

Amaretto di Saronno

Amaretto di Saronno is a legendary Italian liqueur and is enjoyed around the world. It has a unique almond and caramel flavor and is dark amber in color. As with many Italian stories Amaretto was born out of a love story. In 1525 Bernardino Luini – a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1400s – was to paint a fresco of the Madonna of the Miracles in Saronno (this fresco is still displayed today in Saronno). He chose an attractive local innkeeper as his muse. When the painting was finished his muse prepared a flask full of this amber liqueur with almonds and caramel and the couple fell in love!

Amaretto in Italian is defined as a “little bitter.”

In the 1970s, a master glassmaker from Murano, Venice created the newly designed, unique squared bottle. It was made from softly sparkling glass and the bottle design is still recognized all over the world to this day.

The recipe for Amaretto di Saronno liqueur continues to be produced by the Reina Family in Saronno, Italy. These days, the Reina Family has partnered with Italian power fashion houses such as Versace, Roberto Cavalli and Missoni to name a few who have each been commissioned to design a unique bottle for the beloved Amaretto di Saronno liqueur.

Amaretto di Saronno can be purchased in its original bottle for about $20.00 for and also at your local grocery store and Total Wine & More.

Below find drink recipes for each unique Italian liqueur – just in time for the holidays:

Strega:  https://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/say-hello-strega-your-new-italian-best-friend

Sambuca:  https://makemeacocktail.com/recipes/Sambuca-cocktails/?ing=13

Amaretto di Saronno:  https://makemeacocktail.com/recipes/Disaronno+Amaretto-cocktails/?ing=624

I recommend you try them all and add these delicious and beautiful liqueurs to your cocktail bar – salute!

Rosemaria Altieri grew up in the kitchen with her Italian family cooking and baking delicious treats. Her love for gourmet food and quality ingredients is evident in her recipes.  For more information visit Instagram @the_cutting_board_ 

LA Weekly