Luxardo Cherries : An Original Garnish

If your only exposure to maraschino cherries has been Sherilynn Fenn seductively tying the stem with her tongue on an episode “Twin Peaks,” count yourself lucky. The rest of us were forced to deal with this food travesty in every Shirley Temple, ice cream sundae and sloe gin fizz ever made.

So, first, let’s talk about the color: that very glossy-neon red that even a 4-year-old knows does not exist in nature. Except maybe on Rudolph’s nose.

Like so many other things in life – we’re looking at you, “Weekend at Bernie’s II,” the Glee cast’s version of “Don’t Stop Believing,” and Mountain Lightning soda -- the original was super cool, and then someone came along and ruined it by making a cheap, sad knock-off.

The original maraschino is a deeply nuanced, sweet-tart of a treat known as Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, and it’s likely that you didn’t discover them until you were an adult, when a wonderful bartender (whom we hope you tipped well) slipped a few into your Amaretto Sour.

And then: Mind. Blown.

Why, oh why, are Luxardos so good?

Well, they come from Italy, the land of gelato, tiramisu, Neapolitan pizza and risotto – so there’s that.

But the whole story of Luxardo Maraschino Cherries’ origins is actually kind of heartbreaking. Girolamo Luxardo and his wife, Maria Canevari, started the business after moving from Genoa to the Dalmation coast of Croatia in the early 1800s. Maria started messing around with a recipe for a liqueur – invented by nuns, natch – called rosolio maraschino. It was made from the Marasca cherry, and it was so good that the couple started the Luxardo Distillery.

Then World War II came along, and when it was over, only one fourth-generation Luxardo had survived: Giorgio, who escaped to Italy with just one cherry sapling, which he promptly planted in the Veneto region. And the rest is (much happier) history.

The thing is, it takes four years to make a batch of this goodness, and that involves infusing (in vats mad of larch wood), distilling (in small copper pots) and aging (in ash wood). The result is a jar of cherries candied in their own luscious liqueur, with a little cherry juice and sugar. Dark, dark red and molasses-thick, a little nutty and slightly sour, the syrup is also a wonder, especially mixed into a gin martini (making it a London) or a Bellini (making it a Bellinski).

As for the copycat cherries, well, they’re nothing but toddler fodder. Invented during Prohibition, these poor substitutes are sticky, too sweet, flavored with almond extract and colored with a red dye that probably can be seen from space.

So, when it comes to maraschino cherries, accept no imitations.