Better than Limoncello...
Updated: Jun 7, 2018
So you've all heard of 'Limoncello' right? Some of you may even know it by its northern name, 'Limoncino'. It's probably one of Italy's most famous liquor exports. Sweet, tangy, full of lemon zest and with a nice kick of alcohol, Limoncello is a favourite after dinner drink (or 'digestivo') throughout Italy and indeed the world.
However, in our opinion, there's something else that beats it and its a secret so closely guarded by Southern Italians that Greg may get into trouble for wanting to share it with the world!
Introducing...'mandarinetto' and 'arancino'. Think limoncello but with incredible, flavoursome and juicy mandarins or oranges instead. Here at the farm, we have one special tree that produces mandarins which are perfect for this special, special liquor. We actually have many mandarin and orange trees here but this one tree gives a special type of mandarin which makes for a perfect mandarinetto. Greg loves this drink that much that this year he pleaded with Silvia and Marisa to let him have a go at making some himself and this post is all about the process we went through. Also, because he's never tried it before, he wanted to have a go at using some of our incredible organic oranges to make the orange version of this liquor, 'arancino'.
So the first stage (after picking the fresh fruit from the tree in our orchard of course) is, shall we say, time consuming. We took sixteen of the freshly picked mandarins and about 12 oranges and spent an entire morning painstakingly peeling the rind and the zest from each of them. This is incredibly delicate work, particularly with the mandarins as the peel is very thin and it's really important that we only take the orange parts of the peel and as close to none of the white part as we can. Too much of the white parts would make the liquor too bitter and we don't want that to ruin the sweet, zesty flavour that we're looking for.
Once we'd finally finished this tricky process (it's fair to say that Silvia was much more accomplished than Greg at this), the next stage of the process involved transferring the peel into large glass jars and covering each set of rind in one litre of 95% proof alcohol. The jars were then left in a cool dark cupboard for just over 2 weeks, to allow the alcohol to break down and release all those wonderful flavours from the mandarin and orange peel.
After the 2 weeks were over, we took our jars of alcohol and peel into Marisa's famous kitchen and this is where the magic really started to happen. The first thing we needed to do was mix some sugar into fresh water over a gentle heat. We needed the sugar to melt into the water but not boil - we had to take it off the heat just before it started boiling.
Then, another period of waiting. This time, thankfully, not another 2 weeks but just a few hours to give the water the chance to cool down to room temperature.
Now we were ready to add our peel/alcohol mixtures to the sweetened water, so we grabbed our sieve and gently started adding this potent substance to the water. Though strong, the smell is simply divine. It's as if you've captured the sent of an entire orange and mandarin orchard and placed it in a jar. Just incredible. You can literally taste the organic quality of the fruit in the air when you do this.
After draining every last bit of moisture from our sieve, our mandarinetto and arancino was almost ready. We gave each a good stir and then began the process of bottling these golden nectars.
Limoncello, arancino and mandarinetto are all best stored in a freezer. When you bring it out after a special lunch with friends and family during the summer months, you want it to be ice cold (served in an ice cold glass) so that the taste is even more refreshing and it gives your body that much needed cold shock during the searing southern Italian temperatures.
We reused some empty screw-top glass bottles to hold our supply in for the year as the glass will really help it keep nice and chilled in the freezer. Don't worry, it won't freeze as there's simply too much alcohol in this powerful liquor.
Ideally we should leave these bottles to settle again for another few days before we start drinking them but Greg just couldn't resist pouring himself a couple of small samples to see how the taste was. Honestly, the taste is unlike anything he has ever had before. Take the best limoncello you've ever tasted, times it by a million and you're still nowhere near. As soon as that bright orange liquid hits your tongue it's like a never ending field of mandarins (or oranges in the case of arancino) has appeared in your mouth, all covered with a perfectly balanced sweet alcohol taste that spreads a refreshing feeling of flavour across your whole palate. It's like you're literally drinking a piece of Southern Italy, a taste that you would think would only be reserved for the Emperors or even the Gods of the past.
It really is that good. Surprisingly, this incredible flavour sensation occurs, like with most of the things that come out of Marisa's kitchen, with only a few ingredients: oranges/mandarins, alcohol, sugar and water. That's it. No preservatives nor additives and no chemicals at all! As Silvia and her Dad always points out to our guests during a La Lucana experience, when you have world class quality, organically grown products you don't need to try and add flavour with a whole range of other stuff. Simplicity is enough and this philosophy permeates every part of Lucanian (Basilicata) life.
Who knows, maybe one year you'll be here making some of your own mandarinetto or arancino, just like the people of Basilicata...;)
To organise an experience with us where you can have a go at making an incredible drink like this, January and February are the times to come. It's also a good opportunity to have a go at making some incredible organic home-made marmalade!