Or­anges and al­co­hol

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Skin­ner

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.

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