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At any decent bar or restaurant you'll almost certainly find a fair number of Italian-made liqueurs lined on a shelf. Amaretto, Nocello, Frangelico, Lemoncello, Campari and Fernet-Branca are just a few to mention. Some are brightly colored, others crystal clear. Each has not only a mysterious name, but as I found, an interesting story that goes along with a tradition.
First created by witches as an exceptionally strong love potion, Liquore Strega is an infusion of more than 70 herbs and aromatic spices from Europe, Central America and the Orient. Above all is saffron. It is one of the oldest Italian liqueurs and the best known.
The story behind Strega dates back to 1860, when Giuseppe Alberti received an ancient and secret recipe from the monks of the local monastery in the town of Benevento. Located midway between Rome and Naples, Benevento, according to an old legend, was the place where witches from all over the world gathered around an old walnut tree.
At first he sold the recipe as a medicine (as many types of liqueur were) but sales were poor.
Giuseppe tried, with his father's help, to improve the recipe, but the results were taking far too long. So, aware of the charm and popularity linked to the legend of the witches of Benevento, he decided to sell it as "Liquore Strega," which roughly translates to witch's liquor, and associated it with the myth, still very much alive, according to which the witches had prepared a love potion to unite forever those couples who drank it.
With a bright, nearly fluorescent yellow, Strega is a very complex drink. It starts with sweet notes from the sugar, then becomes bitter from the herbal components and finishes with a strong licorice flavor, most likely coming from the fennel.
Strega is best served alone, either straight up or on the rocks. If your taste tends toward syrupy drinks, Strega will be excellent after a meal, but it also can be added to ice cream, fruit salad and cakes.
Liquore Strega is now imported by Hakerem Company and costs NIS 250 for a one-liter bottle.