Tuesday, December 7, 2010
the Amari File: Meletti
Saffron the spice has a pretty fascinating history: used in potions by the Sumerians, woven into textiles by the Persians, added to wine by the Chinese, made the subject of myth by the Greeks, found in the baths of Cleopatra, pirated in the time of the Black Death, made the seed of the dispute that flowered into the 14 week "Saffron War," regulated by the Safranshon code protecting against its adulteration, and cultivated by the Pennsylvania Dutch, saffron as an ingredient brings with it a golden straw aroma that conjurs to mind the exotic. Or so it does to my mind in the case of the Meletti amaro, to which saffron is known to be added, along with several other components of a secret recipe.
The Meletti family started distilling anisetta back in 1870, in the Marche. The distillery is still located near the town of Ascoli-Piceno, also the namesake of a commune in the Marche. Some time later, around the turn of the century, the recipe for an amaro was added to the family distillations. What is produced today may or may not hew closely to that original - it is hard to say. But what we have now is still produced with the crucial saffron, which to me adds some real interest to the lifted aroma of this amaro, and makes it stand apart from its amari cohorts from other regions of Italy.
Meletti amaro today is distilled to 64 proof, and I have read that the process of maceration calls for pumping the alcohol base through the spice and herbal ingredients with several passes. After this, caramel is added, as it often is with amari today. This gives a deeper color to the liquid, as well as a certain sweetness in the Meletti that is reminiscent of an amaro such as that of Nardini, which also sees caramel addition. For me the sweetness is not cloying, but certainly with the Meletti we are a long way off from the kind of bitter spikes that one can find in the amari of the fernet family. The Meletti empasizes a mellow and rounded palate, a hint of what tastes to me like cardamom on the mid-palate, and lingers nicely as a cinnamon taste coating the back of the tongue. Those who know the taste of Carpano Antica Formula vermouth will I think recognize some of the same flavors in Meletti amaro, except the mouthfeel of the amaro is so much broader and viscous.
Meletti is the kind of amaro that could easily, to my way of thinking, be used as an aperitivo, perhaps over ice with a slice of orange, or maybe with a small addition of club soda. It is also quite mixable, in terms of cocktail use. One way that I have been successful with it is to blend it with a spirit base that is by itself pretty dry, such as some ryes are. Another good route to take is a mixture with George Dickel Tenn. Whisky. The fact that Meletti amaro is pretty inexpensive also adds to its versatility as a cocktail ingredient.
Maybe you know a good story involving Meletti amaro? Or a good recipe that calls for it? Please do share in the comments.
I probably shouldn't leave off without saying that the standard Meletti anisetta is a favorite of mine. I have not had yet the opportunity to try the anisetta "dry" that Meletti also produces. Maybe you have?
Meletti products are imported into the United States by the Opici Import Company of NJ.