If there is one thing that can put Croatia on the World map of very unique delicacies and fine drinks, it would be Maraschino. In Zadar area, marasca sour cherry (Prunus Cerasus Marasca) has been regarded for centuries as medicine and food. This very special plant has adjusted well to the specific soils of Zadar hinterland and it is considered to be autochthonous to this region. The first record of marasca cherry in this region dates from 1399. and, unlike today, the trees back then were much higher and lived much longer as they were used, in some cases, as borderline tree – something that was always reserved for oak trees.
The story of Maraschino starts in late 15th/early16th century when a pharmacist from Zadar’s Dominican monastery used marasca cherry to produce a very unique liquor called “rozolj” coming from “ros solis” (The Sun dew). Later it became known as Maraschino. The increase in production starts only in the 17th century when Venetian government (that ruled Dalmatia at the time) encouraged the production of brandies and liquors. In 1759, Francesco Drioli moved to Zadar and that’s when the real production started keeping Drioli Maraschino one of the World’s best and best known liquors till 1943 when Drioli family left Zadar after the fall of Fascist Italy. The Yugoslav government nationalized their factory after the war and unified several other producers into one company – “Maraska”.
In early 19th century, there are already 15 small factories producing 35 different types of liquors! Many of the small factories did not survive the Napoleonic rule as it was increasingly difficult to export with British forces – with captain Hoste – controlling the Adriatic with several pirates at the service of His Majesty…
Upon the restoration of Austrian rule in 1813. the rise in production started immediately and Drioli was again very successful in exporting to the leading markets on all continents although UK remained the top market for maraschino for nearly a century. There were several other great and well known factories like Luxardo, Cosmacendi, Sabalic, Kaligaric… Many of them were producing other very interesting liquors.
Marachino was adored by many famous people: Napoleon, French kings Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Philippe… Russian czar Nikolai I, British kings and queens loved it so much that Queen Victoria sent Royal Navy to pick up a shipment in Zadar in 1871. Casanova, Baudelaire, Hitchcock…It was on the bar list on the Titanic and it was smuggled by Al Capone in Chicago…. It is also documented that many cases of fake Maraschino were found all over Europe which just proves how popular Maraschino was! The UK government set a 1000 GPB fine for those who were importing forged Maraschino!
Maraschino also got it’s present known bottle in those days: it was always a Murano glass (until Zadar got it’s glass factory), greenish bottle enveloped with reed brought from the islands and the coastal area. Bottle wattling was done by the women who worked for the factory and there was a practical side to it: since the land routes become as common as the traditional sea routes, the wattled bottles were better in enduring rocky roads of 19th century Croatia and Europe.
Another interesting fact about marasca is that, unlike with other plants, in production of liquors fruits, leaves and even cherry stone is used! Although today we mostly associate the marasca with Zadar area, the first Maraschino factories were getting their cherries from Omiš area! Only later the marasca cherry plantations started growing in Zadar area and, back in 1971. we had about 1 mil. marasca trees. Unfortunately, the war destroyed many of them but also a 40 years of genetic research of marasca in this area.
This is, in short, what the making of Maraschino looks like!
So, Maraschino is originally “ours”, from Zadar and typical to this region. Why not protecting it as Champagne has done it for wines? Why not promote it on a global scale so we see it in the movies and TV series (I bet “Desperate Houseviwes” would look good sipping this!)? Why not make our guests aware of this amazing and unique drink and make sure none of them leaves without ever tasting it? Just another story of Croatian potential that will vanish and disappear and we are struggling with unemployment…
I was thinking about developing a Maraschino tour but the company just moved to new facilities and it does not feel as traditional…
For more fabulous information on this very intriguing subject look up a book on Marasca cherry published recently in Zadar (it is both in Croatian and English!)