I'd never even heard of mirto until I read Efisio Harris's Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey, which, to my mind, is the best English-language cookbook covering Sardinia—home to one of my favorite cuisines of Italy. Mirto is a heavy, sweet, herbal liqueur drunk all over Sardinia, at all occasions, much the way ouzo or raki is served in Greece.
With this description, I knew I had to have it. And I finally got my chance at the James Beard Awards this past spring when I saw it on the menu at Craft, Tom Colicchio's flagship restaurant. When I took a sip, the liqueur tasted like a combination of gin and Fernet-Branca, another Italian digestif: resinous, herbal, a little syrupy but very warming, very happy.
So I did a little research. What's in mirto? Apparently, not much beyond myrtle berries and either honey or syrup. Huh. I could do that, I thought. It wouldn't be too different from my elderberry liqueur, only with myrtle berries. But how would I find this mystical plant?
Holly A. Heyser
Myrtle is not the crape myrtle you may be thinking of. Myrtus communis is "true" myrtle, and it is native to the Mediterranean. Mirto is made from its berries, and there is another drink called mirto bianco made from the flowers. Several years ago I tried to find myrtle—lots of Mediterranean recipes use myrtle's aromatic leaves and twigs to flavor grilled meats—but had failed.