Liquorice is like Marmite. People either love it or hate it. There is no middle ground! The plant is native to northern Calabria near Taranto. The Amarelli family have been harvesting and selling it since the 17th century. So much so, you can now visit their factory and museum!
Liquorice has always been known for its medicinal properties. People claim that it can ease sore throats and coughs. Some people even go so far as to say it can help liver and stomach problems. All I know is that it is the best I have ever tasted!
Liquorice and its root have been consumed for over a thousand years. Records show that Egyptians drank it in teas while Napolean kept a supply of liquorice mixed with brown sugar to help indigestion. It’s also said that Alexander The Great gave liquorice root to his troops to boost their stamina on long marches.
Other manufacturers are allowed use liquorice to name their product even if they contain 2% liquorice. Long ago the Amarelli family took a different route. They found that the Calabrian climate is uniquely favourable to the liquorice plant. This means that its flavours and sugars are so well balanced, there is no need for any sweeteners or additives. This unique quality means that the family only need to put one word on their ingredient list – liqourice!
The factory has been in the Amarelli family since its inception and is still used to the present day. Historically, the roots were gathered and stored outside the factory (as they are today). The process began when the roots were milled by a big grindstone and then boiled. The juice was then put through a sieve, cooked in huge pots until it was reduced and thickened. While it was still soft and warm, it was hand-worked into sticks, tiny buttons or squares.
Over the years obviously the process has become more automated and controlled by computers. However the process and the final quality control are controlled by the “mastro liquiriziaio” – the master of liquorice!
The Liquorice Museum
The museum is in the family’s 15th-century stone mansion across the road from the factory. It tells the story of the company’s founder. It also offers its 40,000 annual visitors a peek into the historic operation. The exhibits include original documents and equipment as well as period clothes and production displays. The museum even has the Italian postage stamp that was produced in its honour!
Both the factory and museum offer guided tours. In both, the incredible smell of liquorice is heavy in the air.
Finally there is of course of the shop where you can buy many liquorice based goodies. Who could resist these little vintage tins of liquorice? If you do buy some, be prepared for a taste sensation as the taste is more bitter and intense than the mass produced stuff!
You can buy the original 100% liquorice lozenges. However they now make many different variations such as ones with hard sugar coating or the texture of fruit gums. Also, if you don’t think you’ll like pure liquorice, try it flavoured with mint, vanilla, anise, violet, orange and lemon, or even with chocolate.
There are also things for adults (and big kids like me!) You can buy blonde and dark liquorice beer, liqueur or grappa. Definitely recommended, so bring your credit card!