I took a few books with me on vacation. One of them was an Italian novel called La strega innamorata, (“The witch in love”). It’s funny, and quirky, and easy to read, even for someone whose language skills are as rusty as mine. And every time I picked up the book, it did me the favor of reminding me that I should pour myself a glass of what might be my favorite digestivo, Liquore Strega.
Strega is a bold liqueur. It has a bright electric saffron yellow color, and a typically Italian label full of busy little curliques, medals, and flourishes. It’s 80 proof, but feels stronger. The aroma of Strega is that of atomized pepper, mace, and salty air. To taste, it starts cloyingly sweet, but this is quickly clobbered by a strong anise and cassia mixture. A pine and wintergreen taste scratches you lovingly on the way down your throat. Strega is not an amaro. It manages to suggest bitterness to the back of your tongue without actually being bitter.
When the liquor finally reaches your stomach, you will feel warm.
There are substitutes for Strega. Liquore Galliano is often shelved nearby, but it’s not as good and the bottle (twice the height of any shelf you have available) is painfully stupid and inconvenient. The closest substitution would be Chartreuse. Secretly, I think that yellow Chartreuse tastes just a little better than Strega — it’s less sweet, and has a bit more of a burn. But it’s French, and named after monks, which means that it doesn’t have as much romance as its Calabrian cousin. So I always drink Strega instead.
It may not seem totally rational to prefer something that I know, intellectually, doesn’t taste quite as good as its alternative. But that’s how I feel about it.
I guess you could say I’m bewitched.