Zara is a white, maraschino cherry-flavoured liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries from Dalmatia, Croatia.
It is made at Zadar (formerly Zara) in Dalmatia on the coast of the Adriatic sea.
It is used as a sipping liqueur, and as a sweetener in baked goods and sweets.
Zara is now called “Zadar” and is part of western Croatia.
Zara was originally a Roman colony and then became part of the Byzantine Empire. It was later Venetian (1001 – 1797), with the exception of brief periods of Hungarian rule. It then passed to Austria in the Treaty of Campo Formio. It was then in Italian hands from 1919 until 1947, at which point it passed to Yugoslavia, and then to the newly formed Republic of Croatia in 1991.
In the Zara area, a maraschino liqueur had been made for hundreds of years. Large-scale commercial production of it began in the mid-1700s.
There were two main companies making Zara: Drioli and Luxardo.
Drioli was founded by Francesco Drioli in 1759. After their factory was destroyed by bombing in WWII, they reopened near Venice, but went out of business sometime in the 1970s.
Luxardo was founded in 1821 by Girolamo Luxardo (born c. 1790 in Genoa). He moved to Zara in 1817 along with his wife, Maria Canevari. Maria learned of the traditional liqueur in Zara, and sought to perfect it at home. Maria turned out not only to have a deft hand at making it, she was also well-connected in society because she was a Marquess, and the chattering classes were soon raving about her version. Girolamo consequently set up a business to produce it on a larger scale. The company is still in business. Luxardo bottles still say on them “Privilegiata Fabbrica di Maraschino”, reflecting the appointment Girolamo received to make the liqueur for an Emperor of Austria.
The bottles for both the Drioli and Luxardo liqueurs were made in places like San Marino, Italy. They were elaborate, hand-painted bottles that are now prized by collectors. Not all the bottles were glass, some were ceramic. Many of the glass ones, though, were actually Murano glass from Venice.
There were other producers along the way, such as Gilardi and Romano Vlahov, but they did not survive the bombing of their facilities during WWII.