Thursday, August 18, 2011

Liquore latte di vecchia

This is the last post in a short series on homemade Italian liqueurs. Using Maria Pignatelli Ferrante’s Puglia - A Culinary Memoir [2008] as a springboard, we began with a recipe for Rosolio di limone, a bright-tasting, aromatic lemon liqueur. We next explored Nocino, a dark, complex liqueur made with green walnuts picked on 24 June, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist. The last liqueur in this series is Liquore latte di vecchia or Old Lady’s Milk Liqueur. This curious yet worthwhile cordial is made with fresh milk, citrus, sugar and grain alcohol.

In the United States Liquore latte di vecchia is as obscure as lemon liqueurs are popular. I found two recipes in regional cookbooks from Italy (both recently published in the US by Oronzo Editions): Ferrante’s Puglia and Giuseppe Coria’s Sicily – Culinary Crossroads [2008] translated by Gaetano Cipolla. The great Pellegrino Artusi (Mr. Wilde’s neighbor on this site’s banner) has a recipe in The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well [1891] that, in all but its name, is nearly the same as Liquore latte di vecchia. Artusi’s Rosolio Tedesco (or German Rosolio) contains a “garden lemon,” vanilla, grain alcohol, sugar and milk.

Although Ferrante’s, Coria’s and Artusi’s recipes are similar, they are not identical (not unusual for regional recipes). Ferrante’s and Artusi’s recipes call simply for milk, while Coria’s recipe calls for “goat or other milk, freshly milked”. Ferrante calls for half a lemon, diced, while Coria calls for the “zest of 1 orange or lemon, or vanilla.” Artusi’s recipe calls for both citrus and vanilla.

Artusi writes: “Don’t be taken aback by the strange composition of this rosolio, which is easy to make, delicately flavored, and as clear as water.” Yes, making Liquore latte di vecchia is easy. The only difficulty that you might encounter depends upon how fresh you want your milk. If store-bought milk is fresh enough, then making Liquore latte di vecchia is a breeze. However, if you want to use freshly milked cow or goat milk, then making Liquore latte di vecchia might prove a bit more challenging. Through a helpful lead from my editor, I located an organic dairy in California called Organic Pastures that sells one-day-old raw milk at a local farmer’s market.

Here is Ferrante’s recipe for Liquore latte di vecchia:

½ lemon, diced
5 cups sugar
1 quart milk
1 quart alcohol [pure, distilled]

Drop the lemon pieces into a wide-necked bottle. Add the sugar, the milk, and the alcohol. Seal hermetically and set aside to rest for 15 days, shaking the contents of the bottle every morning and evening. Filter the liqueur, transfer to clean, dry bottles. Hermetically seal the bottles.

A few notes. After adding all of the ingredients expect two things to happen: the lemon will begin to curdle the milk and the ingredients will separate. Be brave. Shaking the concoction over the 15-day infusion period helps dissolve the sugar and integrate the liquids, but do not be surprised if the liquids occasionally separate. Just keep shaking the bottle twice a day and all will be well.

After the 15-day infusion period I filtered the liqueur first through cheesecloth and then through a paper coffee filter. This produced a somewhat clear, slightly milky liquid. A second pass through a paper filter produced a relatively clear liquid, albeit with a slight yellow hue (presumably due to the lemon zest). Certainly compared to milk, this liqueur is, as Artusi puts it, “clear as water.”

Liquore latte di vecchia tastes like all of its ingredients; it is sweet and slightly lemony with a round, creamy flavor. But make no mistake: it packs a wallop (as would any drink using 151 proof alcohol).

As with Nocino, Liquore latte di vecchia rarely makes an appearance at local liquor stores here in the States. But its rarity alone is not a reason to make it. With its unique ingredients and delicate flavor, Liquore latte di vecchia deserves a broader audience. Enjoy it with a fellow Bunburyist of your choice.