Monday, September 14, 2009

Overindulgence Relieved by the Magic of Averna

This past weekend when Nancy was back in New York visiting Rob, Janet and our brand-new granddaughter, Catherine, I went out to dinner with Alex, Cass, Amanda and Antonio. We decided to go to Avatar’s in Sausalito, one of our favorite casual spots when the craving for Indian/Mexican/Jamaican/etc. fusion cuisine comes upon us.

As always, we simply gave Ashok Kumar, the proprietor, an indication of the spiciness level we were after and left the rest up to him. His selections for us were as good as ever and by the end of the meal we were stuffed.

When we got back to our house I pulled out a bottle of Averna and poured a couple of small libations for Antonio and me, and one for Amanda who had never had Averna before but was willing to try it. My only regret was that we did not have any of the cool new Averna “WOMB” glasses at our disposal.

Amanda enjoyed her first taste of Averna (or at least was too polite to say she did not) and, as always, the its digestive qualities relieved our discomfort.

Amaro Averna is one of the Italian “amari” (“bitters”) beverages. It has been produced by the Averna company in the city of Caltanissetta in the middle of Sicily for the last 140 years.

Like many of the Italian amari, Averna was originally developed by a religious order for medicinal purposes. In 1854, the Capuchin monks of the Abbazia di Santo Spirito in Caltanissetta gave the recipe for Averna to Don Salvatore Averna, a local textile merchant who was a benefactor of the abbey, and the rest is amaro history.

I had never heard of Averna or amari until a couple of years ago when Wolfgang Weber, one of my fellow students in my Italian class, wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “That’s Amari”. I tried a few of the amari covered by Wolfgang’s article, but Averna was the only one that appealed to me at all.

Averna is not for everyone (just ask Alex and Cass!). It is a dark, slightly viscous liquid with an alcohol content of 32% and a pronounced herbal fragrance and flavor, attesting to its medicinal origins and the 60 or so herbs and other ingredients used in its production. Still, I have without too much effort really come to enjoy it and, since Averna sells over 8,000,000 bottles per year (a million in Sicily, four million more in the rest of Italy, and the remaining three million around the world), I seem to be in good company.

In the last few years Averna has also made a substantial push to increase its market here in the US. Among other things, it hired Duggan McDonnell, a well-known bartender and owner of Cantina on Stockton Street near Union Square in San Francisco, to promote Averna and develop new drinks which incorporate it and Duggan is now featured on the company's US website, which includes recipes for some of the mixed drinks Duggan has helped to create.

When I initially learned of Averna I thought it was just a small one-product company located in the remote interior of Sicily. However, the company is in fact publicly traded and, since the 1980’s, has diversified both within Italy (where it acquired Amaro Braulio, Nochino di Modena, Limoncetta di Sorrento, the Friulian winery Villa Frattina (which produces wines, grappa and sparkling wines), and even the Piemontese confectioner Pernigotti) and overseas, where it now owns an impressive line of beverages produced around the world.

I certainly recommend giving Averna a try!

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Ah, l'amaro! Such an institution in Italy! As you might have noticed, Italians are obsessed with digestion, and they do all in their power to ease the process. These herbal compotes are usually the result of a long tradition, when the pharmacists monks would come up with a concoction to solve pretty much any medical problem... the remedies devised i the Middle Ages are now the recipes at the base of the amari industry- isn't it wonderful?