The world-famous Liquore Strega has been produced since 1860 by the S. A. Distilleria Liquore Strega in Benevento, Campania. The 80 proof liquor contains approximately 70 herbal ingredients and has a slightly sweet complex flavor, with strong minty and juniper-like notes. Like most herbal liqueurs, Strega is made from a secret combination of herbs from around the world, but most come from Italy, such as Florentine iris, Italian Apennine juniper and Samnite mint, while the liqueur’s yellow color comes from the addition of saffron from Abruzzo.
There are numerous stories as to how the liqueur came about. The ‘official’ story is that Giuseppe Alberti, a wine merchant by trade, moved to Benevento after his father Carmine, a spice merchant, was imprisoned in the area after a disagreement with the governor of the Papal State. When a train station was built in Benevento, Alberti began exporting local wines to France. He made enough money through this endeavor to buy numerous bars in the area, one of which was in the train station. After his father was released from prison, they joined forces to create the herbal liqueur. Carmine Alberti’s knowledge of herbs and spices helped shape the ingredients that eventually became Strega.
As the story goes, Giuseppe began offering the liqueur to travelers at the train station. They called it Strega, which mean witch, because Benevento was known as the city of witches. In fact, before the Romans took over the area, they referred to it as Maleventum – the site of bad events. Eventually, word spread about the liqueur and a distillery was built right next to the train station.
Perhaps the more interesting story starts out with Giuseppe and his father searching for herbs to make elixirs in Benevento. While walking through one of the area’s densely wooded sections, they stumbled upon a witch trapped beneath a fallen tree branch. The father and son saved the witch and as a reward were presented with the secret recipe for Strega. They had to promise not to tell anyone the recipe and could only pass it on to another family member shortly before death, so that the recipe would live on.
Chuckle if you wish, but the mandate of the witch from this story is still followed today. Only two people know the recipe and they are the only ones allowed to prepare the herbs for Strega. In fact, there is a secure herb room where all the herbs are stored in a coded set of draws. Only these two individuals know how to decipher the code to collect the correct herbs. More than a century and a half later, the distillery is still located next to the train station.
Readers should also take note that The Premio Strega, Strega Prize, the most prestigious literary award in Italy today, was founded in 1947 by Guido Alberti, then owner of the company.