Heaven in a glass: an interview with Paolo Basolo
Why not treat yourself by taking time to sample our own selection of fabulous Italian liqueurs from Piolo & Max. From Cool Cappucino to Tempting Tiramisu, they are, quite simply, delicious. But who are the people behind this liquid nirvana? I recently had the chance to speak to Trieste-based Paolo Basolo (aka Piolo), Sales Manager & Co-founder of the Piolo & Max Distillery.
Ciao Paolo (a.k.a. Piolo), could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your past working experiences?
I am trained as a winemaker, I have played the saxophone for many years, and worked as a DJ, bouncing among the most famous rock clubs of the North East of Italy. Finally, I ended up working in the cellars of the Old Port of Trieste, where for centuries the tradition of Trieste’s liqueurs was developed. Here I met Max, my trusty business partner.
When did you decide to start your own business, and why?
When the cellars were closed, it was the decisive moment when Max & I risked everything and applied all our skills to create something new. The intent, from the beginning, was to resume the traditions of liqueur-making, reinterpreting them with innovation, in our own way. Producing liqueurs was a challenge, I discovered myself as a little alchemist and a kind of ‘musician of the spirit’. On the one hand, you need to know how to mix the ingredients and, on the other hand, you need to interpret the notes of a long tradition in an innovative way. We are curious and we like to experiment, just like we do with music. We have infused almost all the spices it is possible to find on the market, to get a perfect understanding of how they taste and how they work together.
Can you tell us a bit more about Max? What is his role in the business?
Max is the most brilliant Production Manager I have ever met, as well as a trusted friend and co-author of “duets” of taste. It is no coincidence that his role is fundamental above all in the creation of sweet products, while dry and bitter products reflect my taste and are created by me.
What are the most common issues that a small artisan like you must deal with on a regular basis?
My daily challenge, as a small artisan producer, is to make everyone understand the difference between liqueurs handcrafted by small artisans and industrial productions, and also how essential it is to choose high quality ingredients, which must be natural, fresh and, when possible, organic.
Good point. Could you explain what is the actual importance of raw materials and ingredients to make quality liqueurs?
The choice of quality raw materials is fundamental because they will lead to the production of a liqueur that represents your idea. It is like in haute cuisine recipes where you start from the quality of raw materials knowing what you need to achieve and the final result you aspire to. This requires study and years and years of experimentation.
What is the most difficult or delicate part during the liqueur making process?
Working with natural raw materials (fruits, spices, herbs) gives the best results in terms of quality, but it also makes our life more difficult since it is not possible to predict seasonal variations for many ingredients. Our products may have slight differences between one batch of production and another. We consider it an indicator of real genuineness.
Tell us something you love and something you hate about your job!
LOVE: independence, intergenerationality, experimentation with tastes, flavours (good and bad), taste trends, cross-culturality, partying!
HATE: insolvent customers, Italian bureaucracy, caps that do not hold and… my bad English!
How would you describe your experience with the UK market so far?
Definitely positive. On my first visit to Ledbury it became clear to me, thanks to the enthusiasm shown by the locals, that the differences in the approach to liqueurs of our respective countries would have been a real opportunity to learn and grow, creating new products (like the Awesome Amaretto) that I would have never otherwise considered.
Amongst your products, what are the most appreciated by British consumers?
In the list of our liquid desserts, proposed to the English market by Hay Wines, the one that has the greatest success is definitely the Before Nine (which we call in Italy Cioccomenta), a fresh milk based cream liqueur, with Dutch cocoa and peppermint. In addition to the Cracking Coconut, probably the only liqueur in the world with pieces of coconut in suspension, we have just created for Hay Wines the exclusive Awesome Amaretto, made from fresh almonds respecting the tradition of Italian liqueurs, that has immediately met the British taste.
The Guardian recently wrote an article about the city of Trieste where Piolo & Max was listed amongst the most interesting and unique places to visit whilst in the city. How did you feel when you read it?
Meeting a famous food & wine journalist like John Brunton (who already had the opportunity to appreciate our products in Venice) was a great emotion and, at the same time, the most natural thing that could happen. We met for a lunch in the Osteria of a dear friend of ours and, between a chat and a good glass of wine, I was not even realising what a surprise it was about to happen. Thanks, once again, to The Guardian and John Brunton for this amazing opportunity!
How important is the “feminine touch” in your work?
Very much! With Elena, Elisa and Mabel, we form a great team with “spirit”, made up mostly of women, a feature we are particularly proud of (even if it is hard sometimes for 2 poor boys to be in minority!) since we brought some, as you said, “feminine touch” in an industry that for a long time has mostly been a “men only” club. Last but not least, also the help and support of my wife Silvia, that since our birth has believed in our project, is fundamental being herself an experimenter, traveller, and writer.
Finally, say something to the people that have already discovered your products… and try to tempt those that have not indulged in your creations yet!
We are very happy that we already have many fans in the UK that have appreciated our creations and… we do hope they pass on the word to family and friends! Christmas is approaching and our luscious liqueurs are just the perfect gift to give to someone you love! Thanks everyone, we will see you in Ledbury very soon!
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