I love a coincidence, don’t you? Just last week Hank Shaw put a piece up on his excellent blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. ‘Making Mirto, A Sardinian Liqueur' intrigued me. I’m always interested to hear about Sardinian food (especially since we had a Sardinian exchange student live with us for a year), and of course, drink.
But First, A DigressionShaw points out that the myrtle used to make Mirto is Myrtus Communis (true myrtle), not Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle). It’s also not Umbellularia californica, the plant Oregonians call Oregon Myrtle. Maybe you, too, have driven down the Oregon Coast a few times, and noted the myrtlewood gift shops, with piles of burls in their parking lots? Once you cross the border into California, Oregon Myrtle is known as California Bay Laurel.
So let’s get this straight. Oregon Myrtle, AKA California Bay Laurel, is neither a true myrtle nor a true Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis). In other words, don’t try to use its fruit to make Mirto. Before I stop side tracking, let me just add that this evergreen tree is in the same family as the avocado. Which also wouldn’t make a true Mirto.
The CoincidenceOkay, I’m back. The coincidence? Just a week after reading Shaw’s post, I went to dinner at our friends’ house. They had just returned from Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Torino. My consolation prize for not going (one day, one day) was a rosy block of Torrone al Mirto (myrtle torrone) from Torrone Pili Tonara in Sardinia.
Torrone, a nougat candy, is made from honey, sometimes sugar, nuts, and egg whites. My myrtle torrone is sweetened purely with honey (no sugar). The block of candy is generously filled with almonds; two lines of whole almonds march across the top. Myrtle colors the candy pink and adds a subtle herbal note without detracting from the flavor of the honey and almonds. Which is, after all, why I love torrone.
A quick googling told me they also make chestnut torrone, which I already love, without ever tasting. And, intriguingly, Torrone al Corbezzolo. If you translate the page, it will tell you it’s strawberry nougat. But if you do your own research, you’ll learn corbezzolo is actually Arbutus Unedo, AKA the Strawberry Tree. There certainly seems to be a lot of confusion about plants and their names.
Some torrones are brittle. Delicious, but scary to eat. With each bite I wonder if it could be the last for some of my teeth. Others (and my myrtle torrone is one) are soft. With these I bite down without fear. It’s the chewing that scares me—I worry that fillings could be pulled out. But I’m willing to take the risk.