Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Discovering Amari: Saveur Interviews Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber

On one of their trips to Italy a few years ago, Caleb Barber (In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love) and Deirdre Heekin (Libation: A Bitter Alchemy, In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love), proprietors of Vermont restaurant Osteria Pane e Salute, discovered a love for a peculiar Italian wine: the strong, bitter digestive amaro. It seems, in those little Italian towns, everyone and their mother had a side business in home-brewed amari!

Saveur’s Leah Koenig interviewed Caleb and Deirdre to find out how they managed to bring the flavors—and the feeling—of Italy back with them to their Vermont eatery.

When it came time for Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin, owners of the Vermont restaurant Osteria Pane e Salute, to return from their Italian vacation a few years ago, they found themselves cramming nearly 20 bottles of amaro, a strong, bitter digestive, into their bags. The couple had long been fans of Italy’s food and wine, but their amaro discovery raised their level of infatuation. Now, Heekin has even written a book, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy (Chelsea Green, May 2009), about their attempts to create Italian-inspired wine and liqueurs in their northern New England home. Recently, SAVEUR spoke with the pair about amari (naturally) and the challenges that come with transplanting old-world ways to Vermont.

You first tried amaro while visiting Italy’s Basilicata region. What did you like about it?

Deidre: We were at a wonderful restaurant in Matera, and after dinner the waiter asked, “Do you want coffee or amaro?” Then he asked whether we wanted the national brand, Fernet-Branca, or Padre Peppe. When we hesitated, he raised his finger, gave us a knowing look, and said, “I’ll be back!” So there was all this mystery around it from the beginning. When I finally took a sip, I was struck not only by its great flavor but also by the way it feels as if it were it’s traveling down your windpipe and expanding your chest. You feel like you’re going through some sort of conversion.

Caleb: We started asking questions and found that Padre Peppe comes from the local monks, who use green walnuts as a base. Everywhere we went on that trip, we asked about amari.

D: We also learned that Padre Peppe is available only locally, which is true of many amari. Many people still make it at home.

C: At one restaurant in Puglia, when we asked about Padre Peppe, the waiter said, “Oh, we don’t have that, but my mother makes an amaro called Cente’erbe [100 herbs]. Meet me tomorrow, and I’ll give you a bottle.” Soon, the entire trip became defined by our meeting people in coffee bars to let us sample a new amaro.

Does the younger generation make amaro too, or is it more an old-fashioned practice?

C: Recently, there’s been renewed interest among younger Italians. The economy has been weak for several years, and people are looking to local food traditions to generate new activity.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related Articles:


Recipe: Barbecued Eggplant Stacks with Coyote Mint Sauce and Chèvre

With summer in full swing, many are making good use of their outdoor grills. Tender grass fed steaks or free range chicken are often the go-to options, but the possibilities for a grilled meal are endless. At the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a summer favorite is Barbecued Eggplant Stacks with Coyote Mint sauce and […] Read More..

Food Lover’s Guide: 25% Off ALL Food & Drink Books

Where our food comes from and how it is grown matters. Having control over our food supply is key to a more resilient and sustainable future. A major part of Chelsea Green’s mission is to inspire you with ideas and practical tips. So whether you want to make the world’s best cheese; find a new […] Read More..

Turning Meat into Money: How to Raise and Sell it Ethically

The consumer demand for grassfed, pasture-raised, and antibiotic-free meats is on the rise, putting farmers and ranchers in a unique position to make a decent living on meat that is produced ethically. But, how exactly do you turn meat into money without resorting to the large-scale industrial techniques of today’s confinement-operations? Look no further than […] Read More..

How to Grow Strawberries Indoors

It’s strawberry shortcake season, which means strawberry harvesting season. But for those of you with no outdoor space for gardens, fear not—you can plant, weed, and harvest all from the comfort of your own home! That’s right: it is possible to grow strawberries indoors, from small spaces. According to R. J. Ruppenthal, author of Fresh […] Read More..

Wild Edibles: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Ever spotted a dandelion growing in your backyard and wondered, can I eat that? According to wild plants expert Katrina Blair, the answer is a resounding yes. And there are plenty of other commonly found weeds that fall into this category as well. In her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Blair introduces readers to […] Read More..