03 Jun Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Aperitivi in Italy
If there is one tradition I love in Italy, it is aperitivo in Italy. It is often compared to Happy Hour in America but the truth is that Aperitivi is nothing like Happy Hour. In fact, it is so much better! After spending a week in Italy, I enjoyed Aperitivi any day I could and that is why Aperitivi in Italy is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
An aperitivo is a pre-meal drink specifically meant to whet your appetite. It is almost like clockwork in Italy. Beginning at 5pm or 6pm until 8pm or 9pm, Italians meet to relax over a light cocktail or a glass of wine and some snacks. It is a social activity and a great opportunity to take a breath, talk with friends, and people-watch.
Aperitivi usually consists of a light and bitter cocktail, such as a Spritz, typically made with Aperol or Campari. And a drink like a Spritz is perfect with salty snacks. So, it is common to be served potato chips, cheeses, cured meats, pizza, or olives. The idea is to have a nibble before dinner, especially since dinner usually starts around 8pm or 9pm in Italy (and lunch was a 1pm or 2pm).
But Aperitivi can also be more elaborate than the simple chips and pizzette as was the case for my favorite Aperitivo of this trip. I was visiting my Italian sister and other friends in the town of Vercelli, where I lived a few decades ago. We went to a wine and cocktail bar called Bar Baresco (inspired by the wine Barbaresco which is in Piemonte, as is Vercelli).
Bar Baresco is a wine and cocktail bar that was opened seven years ago by Boris Rossi and Diana Rossi. They have a diverse selection of wines from across Italy, as well as cocktails.
We ordered a bottle of Cantine Di Gregorio Bianco di San Lorenzo, Sciacca DOC, a blend of Inzolia and Incrocio Manzoni, from the southwestern corner of Sicily. This was a wine with peach, pineapple, and apple notes and with a gorgeous minerality.
And for our small bites, we got a dish of potato chips and a dish of breadsticks, as well as an array of delicious locally sourced items. It included mozzarella fiocco (small balls of mozzarella), olives, polpettine (mini meatballs), and crackers with super creamy Gorgonzola Novara DOP. The mini panzerotti, deep-fried filled Italian dough pockets that are crunchy on the outside but pillowy and gooey on the inside, were filled with melted mozzarella and spinach. There were two kinds of cheese – Maccagno, a soft textured, medium ripe, cow’s milk cheese from Biella in Piemonte, and Toma, a soft or semi-hard Italian cow’s milk cheese from Piemonte. There was also Mocetta Valle d’Aosta, a traditional dried beef from the Valle d’Aosta Region that is less salty than bresaola, Salami d’Oca di Lodi from southern Lombardy and Speck from Trentino.
And when we ordered the Castello di Ulviglie Ninfea Chardonnay from Piemonte for our second bottle of wine, we were served more plates of food.
Sitting with friends, laughing, and catching up, each aperitivo I enjoyed this week reminded me how much I wish this was a part of American culture. There is nothing quite like an Italian aperitivo!