For centuries, the Centerbe liqueur was produced for home use in many locations in Central Italy, and over time was enriched with flavors, according to jealously guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation, so that every family have their own personal version. The Centerbe variants, as always with traditional recipes, are innumerable, and currently the name is used for a number of similar liqueurs, both industrial and home made.
The Centerbe - whose name derives from the Latin "Centum Herbora", is obtained from the slow, cold infusion in environments without humidity or thermal shocks, followed by distillation, of about one hundred species of wild mountain herbs, expertly selected and collected on the slopes of the Abruzzo mountains of Maiella and Morrone, according to an ancient Benedictine recipe, later developed by a pharmacist in the early nineteenth century.
The liqueur has a typical emerald green color, high alcoholic grade of about 70°, and is one of the strongest, as well as one of the most famous Italian liquors. It is believed to be an excellent digestive, is used as a correction of coffee, chocolate, and milk, and can also be added to various recipes.
Among all Italian boroughs, Tocco da Casauria, in the hinterland of Pescara, is permanently linked to the centerbe. From the Middle Ages, travelling pilgrims and shepherds who, along the historical sheep tracks, took their flocks to Puglia for the winter season, would stop for rest at the Abbey of San Clemente, which was along a river, and were offered a strong liquor with an unmistakable flavour. Over time the Abbey went into decadence, but the liqueur continued to be produced in the nearby houses of Tocco da Casauria.
In 1817 Beniamino Toro, a pharmacist and apothecary, who had taken up the local pharmacy, began production of the centerbe, which until then had been a family product, and called it Centerba Toro.
Its special features and claimed therapeutic virtues soon made the liquor famous throughout the Kingdom of Naples, so that during the cholera epidemic of 1884 every day wagons loaded with bottles of Centerba Toro left Tocco da Casauria for Naples.
In this way the Centerba also changed the history of the Toro family and of the small town of Tocco da Casauria, where historically it had its ancestral roots, and became an expression of the nature and traditions of Abruzzo.
In central Italy this liquor is made in the summer, a season when it is easier to find all the herbs, which is the most complex step. The following list includes herbs and spices that can be found easily.
- Basil, mint, sage, laurel and rosemary are easy to find and can also be grown on balconies, at home.
- A bit more complicated is to find chamomile flowers, juniper berries and lemon leaves.
- Aloysia citrodora, known also as lemon verbena, originary of South America, is not a common plant and does not grow spontaneously in Italy since it cannot survive too harsh winters, but with some attention it can be cultivated on protected balconies or in greenhouses.
- Cloves, saffron, tea and cinnamon can be found in herbal shops.
The basic recipe can be varied by adding rinds of untreated lemons and oranges (1/4 of lemon and/or 1/4 of orange). Also the quantity of sugar can be slightly changed to taste: with 600 grams sugar per 750 grams water a slightly bitter liquor is obtained. However, the amount of sugar cannot be too low, and for 1 liter alcohol it is advisable not to go below 500 grams of sugar. More herbs and flowers may be added to the ingredients according to the season and expertise.
One recipe: Ingredients
- 1 liter of pure alcohol for liquors
- 800 ml water
- 600 grams sugar
- 6 leaves of each of these plants: basil, sage, laurel, peppermint, marjoram, tangerine, orange, lemon, lemon verbena, lavender, nettle, mauve, linden
- 1 thyme sprig, 1 rosemary sprig,
- 6 lime flowers and 6 camomile flowers, some rose petals
- 6 cloves, 6 roasted coffee beans, 6 juniper berries (crushed)
- 1 teaspoon of aniseed or fennel seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bag of saffron
- 1 small spoon of black tea leaves
- 1 nutmeg scratch
- 1 thinly cut lemon skin
Preparation of the Centerbe
- Clean all herbs and flowers, wash them quickly and let them dry on a tray with absorbent paper underneath
- Place into a glass wide-neck jar or container flowers, leaves, spices, juniper and coffee beans, then pour the alcohol and stir well
- Close hermetically and let it macerate in a cool, dark place for about 1 month, shaking the jar once a day.
- After that time, put sugar and water into a large earthenware pan on slow fire and boil always stirring until the sugar is well melted. Continue to boil on low heat until large, viscous bubbles form on the surface of the syrup. Turn off the fire and allow to cool.
- Place a large colander, lined with a filter, on a pot and filter the infusion of herbs; if necessary, repeat the operation until the resulting liquid is clear.
- Pour the lukewarm syrup over all the herbs that remain in the colander, letting it pass into the pot of the alcohol infusion.
- Discard the herbs, gently stir the infusion with the syrup, filter it all again through a cotton gauze.
- Transfer the infusion into clean, dry dark bottles, and tightly seal with new cork stoppers. For better sealing the caps can be sealed by dipping the bottle tops into melted paraffin.
- Let the liquor rest in a dark place for at least 2/3 months.
The liquor is good to drink after that period, though it is better to let it season for a year. Serve at cool temperature.
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