Italian spirits are in the air for Valentine’s Day and Italian mixologists are creating aperitivi and cocktails that are sure to lead you to an evening of enchantment and romance. Here are a few of our favorites including the Red Passion of Campari, an Italian bitter flavored with a secret mixture of 68 aromatic herbs, spices and wood bark blended with spirits in alchemic proportions. It is Italy’s most well-know aperitivo.
Classic Mixes– The Negroni made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth and all its various permutations including the Americano, which lacks the gin but adds club soda and the Sbagliato where gin is replaced with sparkling wine or prosecco. And then there’s the Venetian Spritz “sprettz“. Favored in Venice but equally as popular in many Italian towns especially in the north. A light cocktail (7 or 8 percent alcohol by volume) often made with Aperol like this version.
Fill a highball glass with 3- 4 Ice Cubes
Pour in 2 to 3 ounces Prosecco or any sparkling wine
Add 1 1/2 ounces Aperol
Then a splash of soda water, sparkling water, mineral water, or Club Soda
Garnish with a wheel of lime or a wedge of orange. Makes 1 serving.
New and Innovative Combinations – The Cherry Americano from New York mixologist Albert Trummer of Apothéke. The Truffle Honey Cocktail, luscious and decadent made with i Peccati di Ciacco Black Summer Truffle honey perfect with Italian Black Summer Truffle Honey Pizza.
Masterful mixology on a stick. Sweet summer cantaloupe and the bitter Italian aperitivo Campari. A delicious contrast that turns a childhood favorite into an adult popsicle treat. Crisp, tart and refreshing. A great way to beat the heat and enjoy the last call for Summer.
Italians are so much more sophisticated about what they drink. They are intelligent drinkers, preferring lightly alcoholic drinks and always pairing the drink to the food so that one compliments the other. There is reason why the food of Tuscany goes well with a Chianti or a Brunello and a reason one never drinks a cappuccino after 12 o’clock noon. There are sequences of activities in the diurnal rhythms of the Italian day. Rituals where form follows function and function creates a sense of well-being that all other cultures aspire to.
The ritual of the Italian aperitivo, the pre-dinner drink, that “opens your stomach” and gets your digestive juices flowing is designed so you can fully enjoy your upcoming meal. The habit of taking an aperitivo in the evening before a meal is enormously popular in Italy. The low alcohol content and dry or even bitter rather than sweet flavor of Italian aperitivi are perfect accompaniments to an Italian amuse bouche. Drinks like prosecco, Aperol, vermouth, a Venetian spritz or the bitter-sweet, red herbal Campari are part of the typical Italian aperitivo hour, an after work ritual that offers a moment of relaxation at the end of a day where you go for a pre-dinner drink to nibble and nip and socialize with your friends.
And as the evening draws to a close and you’ve had a meal once served to popes and princes, your after dinner espresso is followed by a drink known as a digestivo ( sometimes referred to as an amazzacaffe – “coffee killer” for the fact that you take it after you’ve had your after dinner espresso). Digestivi are after dinner drinks to help you digest your meal. Drinks like Averna, Strega, Limoncello and Grappa are much-appreciated by Italians for their digestive properties. Mixtures of herbs, roots, barks, flowers and spices, Italian digestivi are traditionally known for their restorative properties. There are over 300 different kinds of after dinner digestive drinks Italians have concocted over the centuries. Today’s medical mixologists are using their flavors and digestive properties to create modern elixirs with a renewed popularity. So much so that many are now standard drinks at most international bars and restaurants.
Got out of the car on the A-1 autostrada and headed over to the Autogrill with my cousin Lidia who turned to me and asked if I would like a Crodino. Colas and Big Gulps are not the drink of choice when Italians turn to a refreshing mid-day break or a non-alcoholic apertivo. Many Italians follow one of Italy’s legendary commercials when barman Dino is asked to “uncork a Crodino”.
A product of the 60’s, Crodino originated in Crodo in Italy’s northern Piedmonte where waters from the valley were made into a traditional extract drawn from an infusion of aromatic herbs, plants, fruit pieces, cloves and nutmeg oil selected to develop a pleasantly refreshing and invigorating beverage. In 1995 Crodino was acquired, re-launched and given a new image by Gruppo Campari making it the most famous non-alcoholic aperitivo in Italy. Crodino remains one of Italy’s most renowned and consumed drinks packaged in a distinctive 100 ml Campari-style glass bottle. Known for it’s light effervescence and distinctive bitter-sweet orange flavor, loyal Crodino drinkers in Italy and the EU have created an almost cult-like following creating an iconic brand that labels itself “the non-alcoholic blond drink that makes crazy the world”. Evidentally the US is not part of Crodino’s world as of this posting, meaning you cannot buy Crodino in the United States although I did see a pair of Born Oxford boat shoes in Crodino Orange for sale on E-bay.
The iconic Lavazza brand is once again partnering with Wimbledon as the official coffee of the world’s premier tennis event. Serving over a million cups of coffee court side since their initial partnership in 2011, the Lavazza purple and green again waves over the grass courts of Wimbledon curated by former chef, Neil Stubley. Leading one to think that coffee may be a contender to replace the more traditional beverages of Wimbledon – tea and Pimm’s Cup.
Once the drink of choice for British socialites, Pimm’s Cup had become the official drink of cricket matches, garden parties, polo, tennis and Wimbledon. Made with Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liquor created in 1859 by English oyster bar owner James Pimm, this aromatic-infused digestive tonic relies on a recipe that is still a secret (only six persons know exactly how it is made).
It shares this mystique with many other famous herbal liqueurs including Italy’s bitter-sweet aperitivo Campari whose formula has remained incognito for almost 150 years. Only nine people know parts of the formula. A tenth person, the company president, is the only one who knows the entire formula for mixing the 68 herbs, spices and wood barks involved.
For those of you who were wondering about the number 1. After the Second World War, the Pimm’s company extended into other spirit bases – Scotch for No. 2 cup, No. 3 brandy, No. 4 rum, No. 5 rye and No. 6 vodka. Only the vodka cup and brandy (now called Winter) remain in production with the original No. 1 cup still the most popular.
Around 6 or 7 o’clock, as stores and offices close, Italians find their way to the many cafes and bars throughout Italy that serve apertivo, a pre-dinner drink designed to stimulate the appetite with bittersweet flavors and aromatic herbs. Unlike the American cocktail hour where there are as many permutations of the classic Martini as there are configurations of Rubik’s cube, the Italian aperitivo is meant to open your taste buds rather than anesthetize them. In Italy apertivi are usually accompanied by complimentary appetizers. These small bites, served as a buffet, often include a selection of olives, various chips and nuts, tiny meatballs, cured meats, cheeses, pizzette, marinated vegetables, foccacia and traditional snacks of the region. Yes I did say complimentary and yes is it OK to help yourself and go back for more. You can nibble and nip on stuzzichini at the apertivo bars of Milano or cicchetti on an Italian pub crawl through Venice. The custom of apertivo is a perfect opportunity to taste a variety of regional foods in a casual atmosphere and experience the Italian lifestyle.
An Aperol spritz makes a light and refreshing Carnevale Cocktail. Mix 2 parts of Aperol with 3 parts of chilled Prosecco. Add a splash of chilled seltzer or mineral water and garnish with a lemon twist or slice of orange.
Similar to Campari, Northern Italy’s iconic apertivo, Aperol is slightly sweeter and has a lower alcohol content. Serve this drink in a champagne flute, hide behind your mask and indulge in the masquerade of Carnevale in Venice.