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Curaçao Liqueur[17]

Laraha oranges were cultivated in small orhards. Though too bitter to eat, their peels were used to make a pleasant aperitif that quickly gained international fame (CHA).

Perhaps no other item is as identified with the island of Curaçao as this unusual liqueur, made from the peels of locally cultivated laraha oranges. The Curaçao liqueur that is produced from citrus grown on the island has a unique flavor that cannot be reproduced anywhere else; for this reason it can only be manufactured in limited quantities. Curaçao liqueur has the distinction of being the island’s oldest industry in continuous operation. It was also a rare example of a successful local export industry, albeit a small one, that used raw materials produced on rural plantations.

The oranges were originally brought to the island by the Spaniards to be cultivated as a fruit; historical records indicate that one Pérez Maestre brought the first seeds from

Hispaniola in 1527.[18]  When the Dutch arrived they found small groves near springs, along the eastern shore of the Schottegat, and at the major Spanish settlement of Santa Barbara. However, due to the arid climate and poor soil, or perhaps to a mutation, locally grown oranges were far too bitter to be eaten. Enterprising Dutch and Jewish plantation owners, anxious not to let any crops go to waste, quickly discovered that a pleasant tasting liqueur could be made from the tangy peels; soon many planters had developed their own individual recipes to share with family and friends and thick orange groves were cultivated on many plantations. The drought of 1833, combined with a louse infestation, almost wiped out these orchards, but systematic planting brought them back full force by the end of the century. Export of the peels rose from 182 kilos in 1898 to 17,869 by 1914.[19]  The primary destination was Amsterdam, which used them to make a high quality liqueur.

By 1900 many local pharmacies were making and selling their own versions of the liqueur, among them Joubert & Co.and Botica Alemana. The latter, owned by A.J. Naar, was reputed to have the best quality, and even exported it in small quantities for $4 per box of a dozen bottles. However, local production was very small scale and was not sufficient to meet the high local demand. So popular was the drink on the island that the Dutch liqueur was reimported, although it was far more expensive then the locally made version.

The international fame of Curaçao liqueur is largely attributed to one company, Senior & Co. (founded in 1896) which, at the turn of the century, owned and operated a drugstore, Botica Excelsior, on Heerenstraat, Punda’s main commercial street. The firm’s pharmacist, Haim Mendes Chumaceiro, began producing an aperitif using a family recipe; this was soon introduced on the market as Senior’s Curaçao Tonic, and soon thereafter, dubbed Senior’s Curaçao Liqueur. Chumaceiro kept the rights to his secret recipe and after his death in 1938 his widow continued to produce the drink in small quantities out of her home.

In 1945 Senior & Co. N.V. was incorporated and the company bought the rights from Mrs. Chumaceiro, agreeing to pay her a royalty on every bottle produced throughout her lifetime. Production was reorganized to increase output. Soon the liqueur became a favorite purchase for visiting cruise ship passengers, who enthusiastically carried it back home in the United States, fueling demand and spurring the creation of several imitations. Eventually S.E.L. Maduro & Sons took over management of the Senior company and moved the factory to the picturesque Chobolobo Plantation House just outside of town (in the present day shopping neighborhood of Saliña). Initially Senior & Co. only used oranges from its own trees, cultivated on the plantation, but, as demand increased, the company turned to other local orchards. After 1950 export of laraha peels was halted and all local production went to Senior & Co.

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Copyright © CaribSeek, 2002 - All Rights Reserved. Web Published:  December 11, 2002