Travarica: Put it in your belly
Rakija (rah-kee-yah) is the catch-all term for any kind of spirit distilled from fruit (and not just fruit) in Croatia, and it translates to ‘brandy’. Just as there’s apple brandy, plum brandy, berry brandy and so on, varieties distilled from different source materials take more specific names. Here are a few:
šljivovica – plum brandy
loza – pure grape brandy
jabukovača – apple brandy
kruškovača - pear brandy
rogačica - grape brandy infused with carob pods
The list goes on, but in Dalmatia, the king of all rakijas is travarica, a sophisticated spirit acclaimed as a superb digestive aid and tonic. It is quite simply an infusion of a variety of herbs in pure grape brandy, and there are as many recipes for travarica as there are people producing it. Some contain as few as 10 herbs, while others can contain 20 or more. Travarica often contains rosemary, chamomile, lavender, rose hips, matgrass, juniper, thyme, currants, mint or sage, but the list of possible additions is practically endless.
Pure grape brandy is not widely available the world over, but if you have access to good grappa (Italian grape pomace brandy), making your own travarica is not a complicated undertaking at all. Insert the whole, edible herbs, flowers and dried berries of your choosing into a bottle, fill the bottle with grappa and allow to infuse for at least a month. Of course, the longer you allow the brandy to take up the essential oils and aromatic components of the plant material, the stronger and more complex the flavor will be.
If you plan to be in Croatia in late October, check out our post on the Festival of homemade brandy in Hum.