Don Ciccio & Figli: the art, the craft, the story of small batch, all natural liqueurs
“Art and food present effective tool kits for navigating extreme and unpredictable circumstances: both bring people together, stir curiosity, and can incite positive change. The practical side of food can impact the creative side of art and, reciprocally, art can provide new ways of interacting with and reflecing on food and culture.
How does art make us better farmers and better eaters? how is eating and producing food an artistic act” –Edible Magazine, January
In our perusing Edible Santa Fe, we stumbled upon this letter from the editor. Does anyone ever really read those? We don’t, but we did. It was beautiful and evocative and so well captured what drew us to cocktails to begin with. Hosting and mixing and experimenting, it’s art to us, and we’d do it again and again, with or without pay (though the former is better).
Don Ciccio & Figli are a DC based, small-batch, hand-crafted, all natural liqueur company; and they embody this connection between art and food (or spirit!) so well. They’re committed to a 100% excellent, unique, and genuine–even if laborious– product; and as soon as you sip any one of their numerous liqueurs you understand the difference it makes.
We love many things about Don Ciccio and Figli and are certain you will too. We’ll preview a few of our favorites.
Family and Tradition: Francesco, the founder, continues his family’s business from the mid-nineteenth century of crafting artisanal liqueurs. While we know the American value is you can be whatever you want to be, there is something compelling and fresh and so often unheard of in US culture about honoring your roots, your story, and your legacy. That said, Don Ciccio & Figli takes these hundred year old recipes and traditions and innovates, perfects, and modernizes them to the 21st century palette. At our tour of their facility, Francesco pointed to the bottle of Amaro we were sharing, and said, ‘This is as Italian as you can get. And this is as American as you can get.’
Purity: They’re committed to freshness. No caramel. No corn syrup. Actual herbs and botanicals in the amaro, not powders or syrups. Actual lemons, peeled by hand (7 hours worth of peeling per batch!), in the limoncello. This shouldn’t seem like a rarity, but it is. Let’s just say blue Curacao isn’t a natural flavor.
Keeping Things Simple: At Don Ciccio & Figli, they’re low tech and hands-on. Good ingredients, hard work, attention, time, and a love of their product are the things that make Don Ciccio & Figli work. How do they filter their liqueurs? By gravity plus time–they just let it settle. They only use one machine in their process: a bottle capper. And when Francesco mentions it, he sounds a little embarrassed by the compromise.
Aged Amari: We’ve mentioned here and here that we’re obsessed with amari. Don Ciccio & Figlis are some of the best we’ve tried. We love that they gave newcomers an on-ramp to the amaro world with their Amaro Luna (more on that tomorrow) and can’t even begin to tell you how good their Amaro Sirene is. They’re one of the few (maybe only?) distillers who age their amari…in wood barrels, from Italy, washed down with water from the Amalfi coast no less (that in and of itself has to be a recipe for success right?).
Quality Over Quantity: When we asked Francesco how a small, two-year-old company thinks about competing with huge, 100-year-old companies with brand recognition and huge marketing budgets, he said, ‘Well, I’m just hoping that they’ll put the two bottles in front of them. Then they’ll taste the difference.’ And when we asked if he ever thought of taking short cuts or catering more to the market, he said, ‘At some point I decided that I could either do what other people wanted, or I could do what I love. I want to do what I love.’ What he loves is creating lovingly crafted, hand-made amari. And he’s willing to stay small to do it.
Local: They’re sold–in limited quantities–in almost half of U.S. states, but they started and produce just a few miles from us; and it’s hard to not cheer for your home team. Having worked in the non-profit world where it’s all hands on deck for everything from marketing to sweeping the floors, we love the simplicity of the operation. There aren’t short cuts or some massive corporation, but a real life human, like you and me, peeling those lemon peels from noon to dinner.
You can bet you’ll be hearing more about Don Ciccio & Figli. But now you can say you heard about them first.
See where they’re selling here.