Before Jen blindsided me so many months ago with the suggestion that we move to Italy, I never thought I would know how to make grappa. Honestly, I never thought that I would ever even like grappa! But like so many other things I swore I’d never change about myself, living in Italy has transformed that part of me (keep an eye out for me sporting a “puffy” coat this winter – a style I hated when I first moved here and now think is the coolest thing to come of the runways of Milano).
A selection of grappa offered in a restaurant in Lago Maggiore
Grappa is an alcoholic beverage that is served in Italy as a digestivo (digestive) after a meal. We have learned that Italians take the digestion of their meals very seriously and have structured the order of eating in such a specific way as to aid in the digestion. A full blown Italian meal will include the following:
You’ll notice that you’ll begin with the antipasto as a medium to enhance the appetite. The pasta course lays the “foundation” for the meal and acts as a base (note: when served as a primo, you should only serve roughly 80 grams of pasta). Next you’ll move onto your main dish and vegetables – the “center” of the meal. After that you’ll progress on to your salad (as opposed to having the salad first) because Italians believe that finishing your meal with the light and refreshing salad helps aid in digestion (add this to the list of things that I’ve changed in my daily life). Finally, the dessert rounds out the meal and the coffee always comes last. But when you eat like this, you’ll need one final component to assist in proper digestion – your ammazzacaffè (coffee killer). In many cases, this will come in the form of a grappa.
A glass of my favorite grappa in a proper bicchierino (small glass)
I have had the good fortune to have visited Italy many times before moving here, so grappa was not foreign to me. I’d choked the stuff down on many previous occasions, admitting to the table that I wasn’t a fan – but not leaving a drop behind, lest my manhood be challenged. However, somewhere along the way I have not only grown accustomed to drinking grappa – I have become quite the fan. I seldom finish a heavy meal without a grappa and I would be lying to you now if I didn’t tell you that I am presently sipping a nice Grappa Casereccia as my fingers glide across the keyboard (the same grappa pictured above).
The only thing better than drinking grappa is making your own grappa. You see, while the distilling process of grappa is more or less the same, the taste can vary greatly between types (grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds and stems left over from the winemaking after pressing the grapes). The quality of grapes used, the specifics within the distillation process and any additional processes can alter the flavor of the grappa.
Claudia (Jen’s aunt upstairs) is fortunate enough to be from a region in Italy that [I personally believe] stands out above many other fabulous grappa-producing areas. She has brought back many different types for us to try and our liquor cabinet has expanded and contracted like the aged wood of the barrels themselves. In addition to supplying us with some of Belluno’s best grappa, she has an incredible knack for making her own. She taught us her secrets and now I’m going to impart them on to you.
Our liquor cabinet – please don’t play “I spy” with how many bottles of grappa are in there!
First, you start with a “white” grappa. This is a plain grappa that does not have any flavors and uses the traditional distilling process. Next, you pick your “flavor”. This can be anything from a melissa (a plant that tastes a lot like mint) to a pino mugo (a small pine-cone unique to the Dolomites). For our first batch of grappa, Jennifer selected basilico (basil) and limone (lemon).
>1 liter of grappa (white)
>20 leaves of fresh basil
>Place the grappa into a jar
>Add 10 unwashed leaves (if the plant is dirty, wash and let dry)
>Leave the liquid for three weeks in a warm place, not exposed to the sun
>Filter the basil and leave for another three weeks with remaining leaves
Note: basil is particularly suitable to be combined and to macerate together with other fine herbs
>1 liter of grappa (white)
>Lemon peels of two lemons
>6 leaves of sage
>1 tablespoon of sugar
>Add all the ingredients of the grappa in a jar and leave in a hot place for two weeks
>Shake the bottle occasionally
>Filter and leave for another four weeks
The jars after the filtration process
Now that they’ve been filtered, they’re set to rest a little longer
Once complete, pour contents into bottles of your choosing (in our case, old grappa bottles)
If you really want to get nutty, make custom labels
Claudia was simultaneously making grappa of her own and gifted us many bottles (hers was better)
I hope that you’ve found this to be informative and fun. Making grappa is not the hardest thing in the world, you just need some time and access to good grappa (admitadly, we did chose two of the easier recipes). If you end up trying it at home – let me know. And if you haven’t tried grappa yet, eat a big meal and have a sip. You may be cursing me as the first taste burns your throat, but thanking me as it frees open your full stomach.