Last week was the awaited time. A group of us tasted preserved cherries. Those are the ones sometimes referred to as maraschino. The kind used in cocktails and as part of desserts.
Why taste something like that? Well, what we tasted were quite different from the dyed red and green wonders we see in grocery stores. These are not only upscale products but are highly praised by cherry folks. The use of quality versions like this greatly enhances dishes and beverages in which they are used.
For the tasting, we selected eight different popular cherries. Three were Italian and the others domestic. Italy is the home of the preserved cherry.
The differences were huge. Yes, some things were more subtle. Many hit you big. Color was quite different. Only one used some dye. Texture was surprisingly varied. The best were softer. One taster however described them as mushy. Some had a complex nose. Others simple. Each was easily distinguishable.
I got as many examples of preserved cherries as I could locally – three. The others came from online sources. The cost ranged from $6 to $22. Quite a spread for a similar number of cherries. Three also had wide-mouth jars which made the cherries easy to get out and to get at the syrup with a spoon.
There were score sheets for both groups of tasters. We evaluated the cherries based on what each person expected, appearance, texture and flavor. Then we consider value, how much we liked each, and if we would want to have them again.
At the tasting, cherries were set out in the jars with some on plates. We each had plates of our own for the cherries. Since a popular use is in cocktails, simple syrup and various bitters were provided. Some tasters brought spirits as well. An antibiotic victim acted as bartender.
Here’s a list of the cherries in alphabetical order. The same as we tasted them. Plus are few general remarks from the tasters.
» Amarena Fabbri. One of the original preserved cherries from Italy. Small, medium texture. Dark cherry syrup, rich flavor. At home with dessert or cocktail. Best jar by far.
» Bada Bing. Tilden Farms on the west coast. Large dark cherry – medium firm. Dark but thin syrup. Good flavor.
» Filthy Red. Garish red color. Large – very firm. Extremely sweet – thin, bright syrup. Put out by a company in Miami. Most typical of the common maraschino cherry. At home on a sundae.
» Luxardo. Medium size. Deep, dark color and syrup. Very aromatic – complex flavor and nose. Texture a little soft. Long finish. Great reputation and one of the original examples. Wide-mouth jar.
» Mezzetta. Medium size. Light flavor, thinner syrup. Red color. Not as good as other products from this company. At only $6, tasters felt they were a reasonable value.
» Peninsula. From Michigan. A little larger than medium. Dark cherry and syrup. Complex flavor, firm texture. Surprised so good. Wide-mouth jar.
» Rex. Third Italian cherry. Medium size. Rich, dark color. Syrup slightly brown as were the other Italian cherries. Wide-mouth jar.
» Woodford. Made using Woodford Reserve bourbon. Nice appearance, medium size, dark color. Sweet, mild flavor. Hard to taste the Woodford. Overall disappointing.
What about the scores? Filthy Red and Mezzetta were in the last tier. Bada Bing and Woodford next up the line. Two Italian examples – Luxardo and Rex—occupied the third tier.
Peninsula from Michigan took second place alone. The taster’s choice by a wide margin was Amarena Fabbri.
This was a fun day for all of us. We learned lots of things about preserved cherries and enjoyed our time together as well.
Next month, we taste hotdogs.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.