While many visitors to southern Italy have taken to sipping the mouth-cloyingly sweet citrus liqueur known as limoncello, fewer have come into contact with the appetizingly herbaceous liquore all’alloro. With its vivid green color, the laurel-based liqueur resembles France’s green chartreuse and usually packs a similar amount of alcohol (about 40 percent). However, while the French concoction uses 130 plants and can be made only by Carthusian monks, liquore all’alloro requires four simple ingredients and is often made at home.
The bay laurel’s pervasiveness as a wild-growing shrub likely led to the leaf liqueur’s popularity. The plant also holds an important place in Italian history: In ancient Roman culture, laurel symbolized victory, peace, and imperial status (hence the phrase, “resting on laurels,” or prior achievements). Even Julius Caesar brashly adorned himself in the laurel wreath at public events when the sacred plant-crown was meant to be reserved for days of triumph after battle.
Today, bay laurel makes its main appearance in the kitchen and at the table. While it can still be foraged, many Italians grow the plant in their home gardens and use it to flavor classic Italian and Mediterranean dishes. To make liquore all’alloro, the leaves are infused in high-proof grain alcohol for at least a month, turning the liquid a vibrant green. After the leaves have been stripped of their color, the liquid can be strained and a sugar syrup added to dilute the aromatic infusion. Stored away from light (some recipes even recommend coating the bottle in foil), the liqueur can be kept for many years. However, given Italian hospitality, stores can deplete quickly, as the after-meal offering is often shared with neighbors and guests.