History & Heritage
Hold a bottle of Filfar up to the sunlight and savour its rich orange glow similar to the burnished colour of the most glorious sunsets. What better souvenir of time spent in Cyprus?
A sip of Filfar evokes memories of the heady fragrance of the citrus blossom and of citrus fruits glistening in the warm sunshine and contrasting against the dark green shine of the leaves. Filfar has been a popular drink since it first appeared on local supermarket shelves nearly fifty years ago and its story is as rich as the mythology of Aphrodite’s island.
At one time, the recipe for Filfar was known only by one person - Takis Philippou. During the 1940s, Takis worked for the British Army in Famagusta. His job was in the cookhouse where he prepared jams and marmalades. As a young lad he had often watched his grandmother make an orange liqueur using a recipe that her ancestors had inherited from the monks at Kantara and some years later he decided to try and recreate the liqueur.
In the beginning he made bottles to give friends at the Army camp. He and his drink became popular and it was said that one bottle had even made its way to Buckingham Palace! As time passed, friends encouraged him to start manufacturing the liqueur commercially and in 1943 he started production in his kitchen. The liqueur proved so popular that he decided to move into commercial premises and started to sell the liqueur to local shops.
Filfar proved so successful that in May of 1974 he decided to move the business to a new larger factory, but unfortunately he lost everything just two months later in the Turkish invasion of the island. He and his family were relocated to Limassol, but Takis did not have the heart to start all over again with new commercial premises so he just made Filfar for family and friends and for a few local shops.
A chance meeting with Demos Aristidou, the Managing Director of Damaris Wines & Spirits Co. Ltd., meant that his dream of seeing rows of Filfar bottles in the local supermarkets would come true. Demos had been studying Travel and Tourism in Canada in 1974 when the lecturer asked the students to each describe a product for which their country was famous. Demos had told the class all about Commandaria, the Cypriot dessert wine, but at the end of his talk his teacher asked him why he had not talked about Filfar and Demos admitted that he did not know the liqueur.
Shortly after returning to Cyprus, Demos happened to meet Takis and after many days of discussion, Demos agreed to buy the secret recipe from the elderly gentleman and in 1991 (to their mutual delight) Demos began producing Filfar commercially once again. Takis Phillipou took an active interest in production and spent many hours at the company watching the oranges being peeled or the local herbs being added. He remained involved and ever present in the day-to-day running of the company until his unfortunate death in 2001.
The recipe is still a closely guarded secret, but Demos will admit that up to 20 oranges of two different varieties and three different herbs are used to make each bottle and the mixture is matured for three months prior to bottling. Production begins in early December each year as the oranges are harvested in the nearby Phassouri Plantation and continues for four months. It is worthy to note that much of the process is still done by hand with seasonal workers joining the company for this period.
In recent years production has increased by 10-15% annually and Filfar is exported to selected retail outlets in Canada and the UK where there are Greek Cypriot communities and several European companies have recently expressed an interest in importing Filfar. In his spare time, Demos loves to experiment with different recipes and three years ago he launched Filfar Mandarin in Cyprus. Lighter in alcoholic content (22% compared with 34%) and not as sweet as Filfar Orange, the sales of the mandarin variety have proved surprisingly good which has encouraged Demos to begin experiments with a lemon version quite similar to the popular Italian liqueur Limoncello. In 2013, Demos introduced a bergamot version with hints of citrus. He now has ambitions to start research into a range of cream liqueurs.
Filfar is a versatile drink and served as a liqueur it is the perfect finale to a special dinner or to enjoy on a winters evening whilst sitting in the golden glow of a log fire. Alternatively, Filfar is cool and refreshing when made into a long drink by mixing with lemonade or soda water and adding plenty of ice. If there is a cook in your house, you will need to hide the distinctively shaped bottle away as it really gives an extra something to fruit jelly – fruitcake made with fruit soaked in Filfar is impossible to resist.
If you are on holiday in Cyprus, one word of advice, don’t forget to get a bottle in good time as Filfar is not available at the airport.