Ginja are funny little fruit. They look like cherries. They grow on trees like cherries. They have pits like cherries. But, ginja are much more sour than cherries. This bitterness really makes the fruit almost inedible. Yet, today, a liquor produced using this fruit is a traditional favorite among Portuguese. And, the makers of Oppidum Ginga de Óbidos have helped create a national obsession.
Leave it to an enterprising Portuguese friar in the 19th century to make something delightful from the little fruit. Legend has it that Francisco Espinheira, of the Church of Santo Antonio in Lisbon, fermented ginja in some Portuguese brandy (“aguardente”). He added sugar, water and cinnamon. Soon, Ginja (also known as “Ginjinha”) became a favorite liquor of residents of Lisbon and throughout the region.
The success of Ginja was a great windfall for growers of this fruit. The morello trees (“ginjeiras”), which produce this fruit, thrive in the western valley region of Sobral da Lagoa, governed by the council of the historic city of Óbidos. Virtually all of the ginja harvest from this area goes into the production of ginja liquor.
In 1987, instead of selling his harvest to liquor manufacturers, ginja grower Dário Pimpão decided to produce the product himself. He experimented with many flavors and created a recipe that is still used today in his Oppidum-branded liquors. (Oppidum is taken from the Latin word for “settlement.” It is believed that Òbidos was derived from this word used by Romans in the early days of the walled city.)
When Portugal Confidential asked Pimpão to describe his product, he proudly stated, “Oppidum Ginja de Obidos is mild and aromatic, with a balanced alcohol content and velvety texture. Most people trying our liquor for the first time are pleasantly surprised by its unique characteristics. Drinking Ginja mid-morning or afternoon is still a typical Portuguese habit.”
Always the entrepreneur, Pimpão searches for ways to further the appreciation of Ginja do Óbidos. Earlier this decade, Pimpão discovered a producer of small chocolate cups. He had an idea. He bought the cups and introduced them to one of his retailers in Óbidos, Loja do Vinho. He convinced the owner to serve Ginja in these cups… voila! A new taste sensation was born! Now the shop carries a slogan, used throughout Óbidos, “Drink a Ginja and eat the cup!” Tourist and locals alike, can’t get enough of this tasty little treat.
In fact, this use of chocolate, in association with the locally produced fruit, was one inspiration for organizing the hugely successful Óbidos Chocolate Festival, held annually in March.
Because of the popularity of these two opposite, but complementary, tastes, Pimpão formulated a new Ginja product, Ginja with Chocolate. This bottle mixes ginja liquor with chocolate to create a taste sure to excite any chocolate connoisseur. Pimpão now holds the patent to this recipe and the product is exclusive to Oppidum.
Portugal Confidential asked Pimpão if there was any truth to the rumors that his Ginja acts as an aphrodisiac. He laughs, “We do not have any scientific proof to that effect, but it is good for our reputation. However, the fact that our customers, in Portugal and abroad, continue to be loyal to Oppidum for decades, seems to be a magical power of its own.”
Oppidum Ginja de Óbidos is sold in 500ml, 700ml and giant 4.5l bottles…with or without ginja fruit in the bottom. To learn more about ginja production, or purchase Oppidum product, visit the Oppidum Ginja de Óbidos, website.
Rua da Escola, Nº2
2510-651 Sobral da Lagoa
Phone: +351 262 969 109
Fax: +351 262 969 644
Mobile: +351 96 603 09 25
GPS: N 39º21.044’, W 009º11.175’