Abruzzo liquorice may not have as intriguingly edible a mascot as Bassetts’ Bertie, but it has a pedigree of greater antiquity perhaps than even Britain’s. Calabria & Abruzzo have been producing liquorice as a delicacy for longer than records can prove, possibly since Roman times, proving a traditional favourite with Abruzzese right up until today.
Liquorice’s roots (pun intended) in Abruzzo center around two neighbouring towns in the Teramo province, Atri & Silvi. Dominican monks began to extract the liquorice juice from the roots back in the 16th century, harvesting the roots from the plants growing profusely near the Vomano & Piomba rivers around Silvi, earning part of the area the nickname “concio della liquirizia” (“preparation of liquorice”). This relatively humble scale of production was taken to the next level in 1836 by Cavalier de Rosa, in Atri, leading to liquorice from the region becoming famous throughout Italy and Europe.
Today the two biggest producers of Abruzzo liquorice are Aurelio Menozzi & R.De Rosa, and Saila Liquirizia which is now part of confectioners & distributors Leaf Italia. Many of the town markets and sagre will have a stand or two with a wonderful variety of liquorice available, from the original barky roots, pure liquorice bricks, long ribbed bands of blackest-of-black stuff looking like warped vinyl, multicoloured sugar-coated pearls plain or flecked, and various variants familiar to those who love Bertie’s All-Sorts.
Sulmona confetti also sometimes uses liquorice as a filling, satisfyingly gooey counterpoint to the harder sugar shells. Inevitably it is also in Abruzzo used to produce a mind-numbingly potent alcoholic postprandial…not for the faint-hearted…
Medical opinion varies considerably on the merits and demerits of the black stuff, even scientifically liquorice proves almost as divisive as it does to personal tastes! But I for one hope it continues to provide an alternative to the excessively sweet, chemically loaded and dangerously sugary options on offer world-wide.