I discovered Ginja Mariquinhas when I was visiting Rua Direita in Óbidos. In a commercially vibrant street that offers a glass of Ginja de Óbidos (Óbidos sour cherry liqueur) door-to-door, the Mariquinhas Experience stands out for its decoration and the innovative touch it wants to give to one of the oldest products made in the Western Region of Portugal.
But where does this ginja come from? It has grown like no other and is now a product recognized within the country and abroad.
I went straight to the source – the factory – to learn about its history and secrets.
The Ginja Mariquinhas family
Just like the other sour cherry liqueur brands found in Óbidos, Ginja Mariquinhas also comes from a family business, but it originated a little further away, about 20 km, in a place called Sanguinhal.
It all began with Abílio Ferreira de Carvalho, who produced an excellent sour cherry liqueur to serve in his small tavern. So good that the recipe was passed on to the 3rd and 4th generations of the family, who made Ginja Mariquinhas a national product.
There’s no pain with Mariquinhas!
Why “Mariquinhas”? The name Mariquinhas was taken from a song by the famous fado singer Amália Rodrigues called “Vou dar de beber à dor” (“I’m going to give pain a drink”). The fado song ends with the following verse:
Memories of the heat
And of nostalgia the taste
That I’ll try to forget
In a few ginjinhas
For the best thing is to give pain a drink
As Mariquinhas used to say
For it’s best to give pain a drink
As Mariquinhas used to say
From Sanguinhal to Óbidos and, more specifically, to Gaeiras, where we find the Mariquinhas’ factory.
We are welcomed by the faces of the Carvalheiro family, Pedro, Cristina and Bernardo, the so-called 3rd and 4th generation of Abílio Ferreiro de Carvalho. They all work at Mariquinhas today, whether in the field, following the cultivation of the sour cherry; in the organization, taking care of all the company’s finances; or in production, reviewing the quality of the product or having ideas about new blends or new reserves.
Learn about the production process of Óbidos Sour Cherry Liqueur
The Mariquinhas factory is small, considering thousands of bottles are shipped to supermarkets and stores daily. Yes, small stores are still the focus of Mariquinhas’ attention.
“It was with the small businesses that we started and grew, and although today they represent a small percentage of our business volume, we will always be grateful to them, and we will always pay attention to their requests,” says Bruno Jesus, who accompanies us on a tour of the factory grounds.
The visit begins among the large maceration tanks. These are where the tons of sour cherries that arrive from the fields are deposited, the fruit of the three harvests that occur every year between June and August.
To the fruit is added 96% alcohol extracted from grain, water, and sugar. “The quality of the product comes from picking at the right time, the quality of the alcohol we use, filtered water, and white cane sugar,” reveals Bruno Jesus.
This Mariquinhas recipe matches the one many grandparents in the Oeste region of Portugal have always made with their homemade sour cherry liqueurs. But the dosages, the excellent characteristics of the ingredients and the knowledge acquired over many decades are the real secret of this brand of Óbidos sour cherry liqueur.
From the vats, we go to the assembly lines where the liqueur is bottled. But that’s not all. Mariquinhas sour cherry liqueur has given origin to other by-products, such as the small bottles which, accompanied by a souvenir, are packaged for sale in the airport duty-free shops, or the box which accompanies the liqueur with chocolate cups to be given on Valentine’s Day or as a sweet present for one’s partner.
The experienced hands of Mariquinhas’ employees do it with extreme agility and are always attentive to the whole process.
The flavors of spirits arrive in the sour cherry business
Bruno Jesus takes the visitors through the heart of the factory and fills them with curiosity about what they will see next. The ex-libris of the tour is hidden behind a heavy wooden door.
At a moment when the only thing missing is the drums to mark the occasion, he slides the door open and reveals a new tasting room.
On the wall are the barrels where the liqueur that will originate the special editions is being aged. It is an adventure started by Bernardo Carvalheiro, who decided to experiment with putting the Mariquinhas liqueur in barrels where bourbon, whisky or cognac had been stored. He has already done it with port wine, an example we taste later on.
“This is really a family business, so much so that all the decoration of this room, the paintings and the pictures you see on the ceiling, were made by D. Cristina,” points out the Mariquinhas guide, adding that also the wooden elements, such as the entrance door, the tables and chairs, were all made by Pedro Cavalheiro in his carpentry workshop. A hobby that he could certainly turn into a full-time if one day he wanted to give up the sour cherry business, since the pieces are extraordinary.
On the second floor of this place is the family’s private collection, with antique bottles and elements dating back to the time of Sanguinhal. Despite the small production of limited editions, a copy always ends up on those shelves to be remembered for posterity.
As I said, it’s here that the tastings happen. These, along with a visit to the factory, can be arranged directly with the team at Mariquinhas. And there are plenty of new plans for this Ginja de Óbidos company, with future cherry-picking activities or a multimedia space on the premises for the projection of videos that provide more information about the history of this Portuguese brand.
Nearby surf spots
* If you drink, don’t go into the water.
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