Every house
has a bottle
in the freezer.


Some time in 1986, two disenchanted city kids pitched a tent in an empty field near Muravera and began planning their future. Paolo Melis and Enrico Diana were both from Cagliari and had met at a beekeeping course (Enrico kept a few hives on his balcony). Contrary to the majority of their generation, they were uninspired by the course plotted out for them. While their forefathers had fairly run from what they saw as the drudgery of country life, they saw refuge in getting some dirt under their nails.

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And here comes our twist: after searching for months for land to buy, they ran into a guy in a bar in Cagliari that had an empty field in Muravera to sell. It turned out to be the very place they had pitched their tent. There are quite a few happy little tales of happenstance in Paolo and Enrico’s story. As Paolo says, “every success is based on lots of work and lots of luck.”

After having set up their bee farm, they began to sell in various little markets in the area. Since Paolo is tirelessly searching for a new project, they began to host dinners - a rough version of an agriturismo. They would buy some rustic fish - mullet - and throw it on the fire, pair it with some good solid farmer’s wine and a wooden table next to a pit fire - all of the essentials for an excellent meal with none of the fuss.

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They had a license to work with alcohol since they already made propolis extract, and so they began bottling their own mirto. I’m not sure there’s any point in trying to describe the taste of mirto - the Sardinian liqueur. It’s both sweet and pungent, intensely herbal and fruity and, for all Sardinians, mirto tastes like vacation and home. Every house has a bottle in the freezer that gets pulled out after a long meal or whenever a friend stops by, unless they’ve already finished that year’s batch.

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So Paolo and Enrico started making mirto for their dinners, with their characteristic blend of obsessiveness and perfectionism. And everyone who tasted it wanted a bottle to bring home with them. Thirty years later, their company, Bresca Dorada produces thousands of liters of mirto a year. They make mirto rosso (from the dark blue berries), mirto verde (a slightly more aromatic liqueur made from the leaves), mirtamaro (a complex digestif blended with mirto rosso and mirto verde), as well as limoncello, arancello and an organic line of mirto. They also make jams, compotes, flavored sea salts and honey. They aim continuously for utter efficiency: since they had more orange juice and pulp left over than could be used for marmalade, they’ve now created a thick orange puree that can be used in bakeries and for ice cream production. All the runoff goes into the company’s compost pile. The idea is to have zero waste. Bresca Dorada is a beautifully streamlined producer of excellent quality goods.

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mirtob corrected
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The idea of the lone craftsperson still reigns king in Sardinia. The idea is that one person’s hands alone can create beauty and that any type of modernization threatens to destroy that particularity. The importance of a farm like Bresca Dorada, then, is not that they create superior products, as much as it is that they have found a balanced system of modernization and humanization. Their innovation elsewhere in the world would be the time and study that is put into any one product. In Sardinia, the innovation is their ability to modernize production, all the while maintaining  excellence and building a strong community.

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As we toured the property, Paolo and Enrico would light up as they showed each product and the one particular way they had discovered to make it extraordinary. The jam is cooked within a vacuum at low heat so as not to alter the taste and quality of the fruit. The salt was soaked with orange juice and saffron and then dehydrated at low temperatures so as to preserve the various flavors. The organic mirto had such a high ratio of berries to alcohol as to give it only one drawback - the flavor was so intense, you were satisfied after only one glass. Whether talking to the owners or the workers peeling oranges or the woman working on accounts, it was clear that Bresca Dorada is a project everyone was happy to be part of.

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The property itself (open for visits Monday through Friday) is beautifully curated, spotted with gardens and orchards. The buildings, even the warehouses, are all a version of the classic southern Sardinian house - white walls, tiled roofs, wooden-beamed ceilings. After visiting the warehouses and various factories where each product is made, we walked around the side of the offices. As we passed one bare patch of grass under an oak tree where nothing had been planted, Enrico stopped us and pointed at the empty corner with enthusiasm. “This is important,” he said, “this is the place we pitched our tent.”

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