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Curaçao Liqueur: The Bitter Smell of Success
Some say the famed Curaçao liqueur is what put this spirited island on the map. Oddly, the bitter oranges used to flavor the liqueur weren't recognized for their value until hundreds of years after they were introduced locally. The liqueur is made from the peels of the Laraha orange. In the 16th century, the Spaniards had brought over and planted Valencia oranges, but arid conditions rendered the fruit bitter, and the crops were left to grow in the wild. The plant became known as the Laraha, the so-called Golden Orange of Curaçao.
It was not until the mid-19th century that Edouard Cointreau of France came to appreciate the fragrance of the bitter fruit's dried peels, and he combined them with sweet oranges to make an aperitif. Eventually, the Senior family created a recipe of its own using the Laraha and began producing Curaçao liqueur commercially in 1896. Today, only Senior's Curaçao is allowed to use the "authentic" label, signifying it is made from the indigenous citrus fruit.
Laraha oranges are harvested twice a year, when the fruit is still green. The peels are sun-dried, then put in a copper still (the original!) with alcohol and water for several days, and finally mixed with Senior's "secret" ingredients and distilled some more. The final product is clear. Colorings (including the famous blue) are added but do not change the flavor. Bartenders, however, use the colorful varieties with great flourish to create fanciful drinks.
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