Oranges and alcohol
As the local orange season opens a number of culinary thoughts occur to me. In cooking they can be delightful, especially in puddings. They complement chocolate as bacon does eggs. For a main dish Duck à l’Orange can be enjoyable now and again, but it’s a bit of a fuff to cook and my quick version (see my recipe below) can be even better. Remember, though, all citrus fruits provide a strong presence in cooking, and this includes oranges.
The noble fruit features in a number of the world’s greatest liqueurs, like Cointreau and Grand Marnier, whose makers extol their virtues in cooking, cocktails, with mixers and so forth. Here in Cyprus we have our own “Orange Institution”, which countless tourists to this island have taken home as a souvenir. I speak, of course, about Filfar.
Filfar is sweet, but also has a sharp edge, very orangey and it is decidedly addictive. It ranks alongside the greatest liqueurs in the world, as an original. And like all great originals, its exact blend of oranges, herbs and spirit is a closely guarded secret. A Cypriot named Takis Philippou was working for the British Army in the 1940s, making jam. It was then that he had the notion of reviving and popularising a liqueur made with oranges, which was said to have originated at the Monastery of Kantara. The formula had come into the possession of his family generations before.
When he was 84, in the 1990s Philippou said: “When I was a young boy, I had watched my grandmother making the liqueur, and my mother also knew the recipe”. Later on, his interest became serious: “I did my first trials with my mother’s help. Every year I made some, changing the proportions, until I arrived at the final product”.
Takis Philippou also recounted the tale of how Filfar got its name. “By chance”, he said, “I went to the telegraph office to register my telegraphic address and I wanted to put ‘Fabrique Philippou’ – Far Fil. But I made a mistake. Instead of writing ‘Farfil’, I wrote ‘Filfar’. That sounded better, so I decided to keep it and registered it under that name”.
From small beginnings, which included sending two bottles to a fair in Paris, where a French chef announced that Filfar made better Crêpes Suzette than Grand Marnier, Philippou graduated from a small factory to a large one, near Famagusta, which opened three months before the Turkish invasion of 1974 which ended its short lived career. So it was back to a small operation, in Limassol, where Filfar has been made ever since.
Today, Filfar is made by Damaris Wines and Spirits Ltd., who are also importers and distributors of cigarettes, cigars, wines and spirits. Their founder, Demos Aristidou, is now the sole guardian of the Filfar secret. He took over the manufacturing and distribution in 1992.
Such is the popularity of Filfar that it is universally available throughout Cyprus, from the smallest grocery to largest supermarket, and in most restaurants and hotels. There are imitators, the words has it, but no equals. Filfar is made by the long-established, traditional method of making fine liqueurs.
The oranges come in at the peak of the Cyprus season, in January. Between 16 – 18 are needed for each bottle of Filfar. Every one is inspected and individually peeled. The skins and fruit are then macerated and fermentation takes place in oak barrels. Addition of pure spirit stops the fermentation at a certain point, leaving the residual natural sugars that give the sweetness to the liqueur. The whole process takes six months.
The orange nectar is then bottled and packed in a variety of ways. 75 cl bottles, 50 cl bottles, special presentations, gift packs, and 5cl miniatures in cartons or a transparent plastic pack with a miniature and a Filfar liqueur glass. Prices are very reasonable for a world-class liqueur. No wonder so many thousands of visitors take one or more home with them. NOTE: the Filfar website informs me you can’t buy it at the airport! Be warned! Finally, I have to say: on its own, or with a little ice, or soda, Filfar is in a league of its own.