the Authentic Italian issue

LIMONCELLO by Sarah Baird

F ar too often, many of us treat eating like an afterthought: Wolfing down a subpar sandwich between teaching classes, or hitting the dreaded drive-through line on a long commute home. Italians, though? Italians know that eating is an art form and a ritual unto itself, on par with any operatic performance or sculpture-adoring museum visit. You don’t eat to live in Italian culture; you live to eat. This means that most meals have a sort of theatre to their structure, ensuring that each step of the dinner waltz is well coordinated. There’s the aperitif : a light drink intended to whet the appetite for the meal ahead.The ruby-hued liqueur Campari, a dry prosecco or a glass of vermouth (red or white fortified wine) are popular options, and are often served with salatini , a small breadstick or bar mix-style snack. (After all, no one wants to get ahead of themselves with one too

many glasses before the main course.) Then there’s dinner, where wine leads the way, playing a supporting role to what’s on the plate. But after dinner? That’s when the fun really begins. Digestifs , in my estimation, are the most exhilarating and complex category of Italian spirit, reflecting the nature of their home region and some of the most compelling liquor-tinged histories around. Crafted to aid in digestion, the range in flavor, mouthfeel and hue of these drinks — from dark and bitter to buoyant and vegetative — is like an artist’s palette — or palate! —of fine Italian drinking. There’s Genepì, from the Piedmont region, which is made from variants of wormwood and not only helps after a meal, but is said to be a cure for motion sickness. Amaros are a rangy family of herbal liquors that cast a wide net, reflecting both a wealth of flavors

and their point of origin: Sicily’s Amaro Averna with its citrus notes; Fernet Branca with its spearmint-heavy taste from Milan; Cynar with just a hint of artichoke in its makeup of 13 herbs. And let’s not forget grappa, a grape distillate that can trace its role as a digestif back to the Romans. But many of these heavier drinks can, occasionally, feel a little Mary Poppins-like on a warm spring day: These spoonfuls of sugar (read: glasses of liquor) to make the medicine (read: meals) go down might prove to be too cloying for the heat, or too heavy after a long meal. That’s where limoncello comes in. Sure, you could sip a glass of saffron-colored Strega, a liqueur from Campania with a name that means “witch” in translation, reflecting the region’s long-held association with those potent spell casters. But my cup will always be filled with limoncello: a



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