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The magic of the “alambicco” (still) in Santa Massenza

The magic of the alambicco (still) in Santa Massenza

In a fascinating corner of  Trentino (Region of Trent) there is a very particular village, in which an art is handed down from generation to generation: that of distilling “grappa”.

We are in Santa Massenza, a small village of two hundred inhabitants, where beats the heart of distillation, a centenary tradition. Walking through the streets of the village, traces of the old art are visible everywhere, and for those who have a passion for distilled products, Santa Massenza could be the ideal place for an itinerary of distillery culture. Up until the 1980's there were thirteen distilleries for a few hundred inhabitants, today  there remain five. From mid September till the end of December the whole village is occupied with the distillation, and it is in the following months that they enjoy the fruit of this antique labor.  The symbolic instrument of the town is the still, the “vase” in which the process of the production of grappa lives. Santa Massenza, under the direction of its master distillers, who open their distilleries to make known the ancient art, can also be the beginning of a visit of the sourroundings. The first suggestion is to immerge oneself in the romantic landscape of Lake Toblino, a lovely alpine lake at the bottom of the valley. On a small island in the middle of the lake stands the castle built in the 12th century and then tranformed into a summer residence by Prince Madruzzo, Bishop of Trent.  The entire zone of the lake, for its flora and fauna, has been recognized as a biotope for its botanical and ethological naturalistic interest.  Both in summer and in winter this zone and the entire valley of the lakes is a magical place to spend pleasant moments immered in nature, with temperatures that are never rigid, because they are mitigated by the microclimate of the basins.

Santa Grappa, but non only: broccoli and truffles

Licenses for distillation are already recorded in the middle of the 1800's, notwithstanding some prohibitions imposed at the beginning of the Hapsburg Empire. In Santa Massenza, in any case, twelve small distilleries were busy producing their grappa and the particularity of the microclimate made possible this artisan production thanks to the lake nearby, to the structure of the landscape, to the wind that blows from Lake Garda. The territory is that of a rural basin protected by the Gazza and Paganella Mountains. It is a place favourable also for the cultivation of a particular vegetable, broccoli.  Another gem of the area is the truffle, called “scorzone”, fragrant and dark. The local truffle is perfect for the preparation of a sauce to season broccoli.

The still “Alambicco”

It is the instrument used in distillation. The term in Italian derives from the arabic word “al-ambiq”, which means “vase”. There are many kinds, according to the method of distillation. The still is composed of three parts: the kettle, which filled with the liquid to distill, is exposed to the flame; above this is the part called “dome” (or “capital” or “helmet”), from which branches off the condenser, that is, a coil immersed in water or a cooling tube.

Grappa at the end of the meal. Why?

The alcohol contained in the grappa helps digestion. Better if the grappa is flavoured with herbs, gentian for example.

The pairing

Aged grappa goes well with chocolate, the aromatic grappa made with only one type of grape, is perfect with desserts. We can also dare to pair with cheese, such as with “Miz”, a typical local cheese soaked in white wine with a drop of grappa.

Secret of distillation

The first phase is the heating of the dregs of pressed grapes in a double-boiler.  This allows the dregs to come to a boil at about 60 C.  This alcoholic vapor is taken from the dregs and passed into the column of distillation in order to obtain a refined and purified vapor.  The vapor then passes to the final cooling:  with the passage of cold water, it goes on to the condensation phase, thus passing from gas to liquid.  The ability of a good distiller lies in succeeding to separate the multiple substances present in the alcoholic vapors – which have diverse volatility (different boiling points) – conserving only the “heart” of the grappa, that is, the most valuable part, and eliminating “heads” and “tails” rich in unpleasant and damaging components.  The “heart” is collected in tanks and then stocked in fiscal company storerooms.  The liquid obtained, must, in any case, be worked upon because it exits with and alcoholic content of 65 C proof, and is then diluted with water.  For a good grappa, spring water guarantees the best result.

16 July 2015
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