Ratafía is a Spanish liqueur which is made by the mashing of different fruits (such as lemon peel, morello cherries, red carnations and green nuts), herbs (like mint) and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, bramble branch) in an alcohol of some sort, generally an aguardiente. However, according to the method and customs of the area in which the drink is made, the ingredients can vary considerably.
This liqueur can actually be found in many of the regions and countries in the Mediterranean zone, but in particular, in Italy, France and of course, Spain. In the majority of the countries where you can find this drink, the names tend to be rather similar: ratafià, ratafia, rataffia, retacía. The widely held belief is that this name derives from the expression in Latin 'rata fiat' which means 'it is ratified'. This phrase is often used in Catholic weddings to declare the official ratification of the union.
The story of how the liqueur came to be called this goes as follows. The man who invented the drink gave it this name as the drink he made helped the local residents of the town of Andorno in Italy to overcome the plague around the year 1000 A.D. His son was among one of the survivors and was able to celebrate his wedding, where the phrase 'rata fiat' would have been used. As the people of Andorno spoke a dialect of Italian, the name got shortened from rata fiat in Latin, to Ratafia.
Ratafía is very sweet tasting and normally has a deep caramel colour - however this depends on who makes it and how it is made. This Spanish liqueur is full of different tastes, hidden within the depths of the liquid, and it allows the drinker to experience a little piece of the Catalan forests. The commercial versions which you can buy in specialist shops and some supermarkets if you ever visit Spain, are sold in glass bottles and can be kept for a long time.
You should drink ratafía liqueur at room temperature, however it can be served cold when drank as an aperitif or as a nightcap. Because of its sweet taste, it is the ideal drink to accompany dried fruits and nuts, as well as biscuits.
In the Spanish region of Catalonia, the drink has had a protected status since 1989, however the tradition of making the drink at home is well-rooted in the region. Recipes for Catalan Ratafía are often passed down through the generations and many families claim to have the best version. In fact the oldest recipe to be found in Catalonia is from 1842 which was found in a recipe book that was discovered in the region of Selva, along with a whole host of other recipes for food, drinks and even home medicine.
Fortunately, there are many fairs and festivals dedicated to this drink which often include tasting sessions and competitions. Some of the main ratafía festivals include the Feria de Besalú which is held in December, the Feria de la Ratafia which is held in Santa Coloma de Farnés during the month of October, and the Fiesta de la Ratafia de Centellas which can usually be found on the first weekend of June. So if you ever happen to visit Barcelona, make sure you take a trip out of the city to go and try some Spanish Ratafía.
Ratafía has also been prepared in the Spanish region of Aragón from around the 18th century, however here it is more usually called 'Retacía'. In this region, the drink is usually made with red carnation, aguardiente, cinnamon, a bramble branch, morello cherries, and nutmeg, but the recipe varies depending on which town or village you go to. One of the best places in Aragón to go to find Retacía is in the municipality of Calamocha, as well as in Daroca and Jiloca.
In Other Countries
As we already mentioned, this liqueur is also found in other European countries. In Italy, the varieties of the drink known as 'ratafià' (from Piamonte), 'ratafia' and 'rataffia' (both from Abruzzo) are today legally protected by PAT, which is the body responsible for the protection of Traditional Italian Food and Farming Products.
Meanwhile in France, the drink is not as common but regional varieties are widely known, especially those from the regions of Bourgogne and Champagne.