Posing as a model for an art student was no big affair in the 16th century. In fact, great artists of yore grew up in their career etching many such models on canvasses all along their way.
For Bernardino Luini, Da Vinci's art student it was a widowed innkeeper in Saronno (Italy) who volunteered to represent Virgin Mary for the frescoes he was about to draw. The work was commissioned by the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the city of Saronno, in northern Italy near the Swiss border, in the region of Lombardy.
The model might have sat long hours before the artist. Sparks began to fly, love was in the air. The infatuated widower now wanted to gift the art student with something as a symbol of her eternal devotion to her love. She came up with a flask of a drink, delicious and amber in colour, which she made by putting together various herbs and apricot kernels, then steeping them in brandy.
Would he fall in for the drink?
The Magic Potion
Might be a little drunk witnessing such crazy love, the eyes of history got clouded over and did not record what happened after—whether the magic potion worked or whether the besotted couple separated with dejected hearts once the fresco was completed. Why should that matter as the drink she made for the occasion became the most popular liqueur down the centuries! Amaretto, the most popular liqueur in Italy, was thus born in 1525 (A liqueur is an alcoholic drink composed of distilled spirits and other flavourings like sugar, herbs, fruits, and spices. Ameretto is made from almonds and apricots steeped in brandy).
Years later the secret recipe from which the drink the widow had made for her lover was discovered by Giovanni Reina, her relative to become a family business and tradition.
Resurrected as Disaronno Originale, Ameretto was an infusion of apricot, spirit, and caramel along with 17 different herbs and fruits. Still so. Its exact composition is kept a secret handed down through generations in the Reina family. At the turn of the 20th century, Dominica Reina threw open a store in Saronno to sell cookies along with the family liqueur - Amaretto di Saronno Originale - harking back to those days when the widow pined after the art student. It became phenomenally popular.
But imagine, such an amazing drink never crossed the Atlantic until the 1960s. When it finally did, Ameretto became a sensation in the US as well. Not only in cocktails but Ameretto became a flavouring agent to food items also including cookies.
The liqueur has a sweet almond flavour with a dash of bitterness giving it some depth. Its syrupy, cloying composition and taste may not be for everyone's palate and they need something to tone it down. Here are the popular methods of drinking Amaretto:
Add a dash of lemon. Or numb it with ice cubes. Or cut it with coffee or brandy (Remember, amaretto alone can hardly make you 'drunk.' Treat it as a cocktail ingredient). Even Cola would be fun. Ameretto can also be poured over ice cream or desserts. If you are the fun-loving type, mix it with Kahlua, another popular liqueur.
Choice of Drinking
Sip it slowly drawing the quintessence of all that love from which it was born some five hundred years ago in a dim-lit studio. Or drink it the Godfather way.
"I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse," says Marlon Brando in the phenomenal movie, Godfather, released in 1972. Ever since Amaretto has been cashing in on its popularity by touting itself as the Godfather's favourite drink from his distant home - Sicily.
With such interesting legends entwining the drink, Amaretto is an offer you just can't refuse in your life.Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog —- A Cup of Kavitha — introducing world poetry to Malayalis. The views expressed here are personal.