Cicchetto, a new line of beverages made in Toronto, started by a chef and bartender

Sort-of Secret: Cicchetto, a new line of Toronto-made beverages started by a chef and bartender

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A kind of secret: Cicchetto, a new brand of artisanal, Ontario-made citrus liqueurs
You may have heard of it if: You noticed their chic bottles at restaurants and bottle shops around town
But you probably did not try it because: You can not find Cicchetto on LCBO (yet)

Loris Murru, a longtime Toronto bartender and co-founder of Cicchetto, calls his lemon and mandarin liqueurs “new, old drinks.” In other words, they are fresh bids on old traditions. Both Murru and his business partner, Giacomo Pasquini, a chef, were born and raised in Italy; Murru in Sardinia and Pasquini in a port city on the Adriatic coast. Limoncello was part of their respective family stories, with recipes that go back generations, but the couple wanted to create a new take on the divisive, daffodil-colored sip. This is not your nun’s limoncello.

“I consider myself a bit of an alchemist. I have always worked behind the bar, and have a passion for creating new things from ingredients,” says Murru. “Cicchetto was born almost two years ago when I started experimenting with an old family recipe and decided I would take it to the commercial market. “

Co-founders Loris Murru (left) and Giacomo Pasquini

Standard limoncello, which typically has about 30 percent ABV, is made by extracting the aromatic compounds from lemon peel with high-resistance alcohol and mixing the result with simple syrup. The taste of commercial varieties ranges from fresh and spicy to sickly sweet and is disturbingly reminiscent of Lemon Pledge. At the lower end, dyes, stabilizers and other additives can contribute to a less than desirable taste or texture.

In a sense, Cicchetto keeps his old school recipes. The only ingredients are a 95 percent neutral granulated spirit, organic cane sugar, water and either lemon or mandarin peel from imported, hand-harvested Italian fruit. This makes both varieties, Limone and Mandarino, beautifully lively and lightning-fast – they taste emphatically of the good quality fruit they are made of, without a hint of perfume-like deficit.

It can be nipped straight up

Their pure, fresh taste would be enough to recommend to anyone who likes a beverage, but there is another marked difference between these liqueurs and commercial varieties: they hit only 26 percent ABV. A few percentage points may not seem like much, but you can definitely feel the difference. If your classic limoncello is a tough aperitif with a noticeable alcoholic punch, Cichetto’s Limone and Mandarino are smooth and relatively gentle on the palate.

It also makes them versatile cocktail ingredients. Drinking either liqueur cooled and straight is a solid option (and a useful suggestion for those who do not love the harder clothes). But if you feel like bubbles, add a few ice cubes and fill your glass with tonic water or soda.

It can also be used to build a better cocktail. Here we have Lemon Maringue Martini

For a spritz, pour two ounces of Cicchetto, three ounces of prosecco and one ounce of soda into a glass filled with ice. Finish it off with a slice of lemon or mandarin and a bit of basil. Or send the Mandarino in for Grand Marnier or Cointreau in a margarita. (Pro tip: mandarin goes really well with mezcal, so you might as well make it into a mezcalita). You can even cook with it: with its brightness, Limone can do the heavy lifting in the cream base of a lemon pie.

It took time to perfect the recipes, but the labels – designed in collaboration with Toronto-based Blackjet Inc. – was no reflection. Spotted with red or yellow dots (like citrus peel) and decorated with illustrations of the fruits they bear, their vintage feel is meant to call back to a previous generation of liqueurs.

This is Mandarino Spritz

The bottles come in 500 ml (a convenient size for storage in the fridge or freezer, even though the product is shelf stable), but a smaller version for Christmas gift presents will soon be on the shelves. Speaking of shelves, you’ll find Cicchetto at more than a dozen Italian restaurants and retailers across the city: Terroni, Sotto Sotto and Stock TC, among others.

Next from this brand, Nocino – a walnut liqueur with a higher ABV. Like Limone and Mandarino, it is produced in Ontario, but since walnuts happen to grow in our necks, this one will also contain 100 percent Canadian ingredients. As for whether you will find Limone or Mandarino in an LCBO in the future, Murru says it’s an option, but he’s not in a hurry to reach the big checkout stores.

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