Last Updated on March 4, 2021 by Gaia Zol
An ancient tradition still lives in modern-day Italy. It’s the Italian aperitivo, aka the drink before a meal.
Aperitivo is joyous and mood-lifting. It relaxes you after a day of work or prepares you for the night to come. You have many choices, from alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages. The aperitif features an endless menu of snacks and drinks.
And, it may come as a surprise, this tradition dates back to the Roman Empire.
The Roman gustatio
Once upon a time, that’s how Italians called it. In fact, the Romans threw together elaborate aperitivi. Especially the members of the elite. They liked to tickle their appetite before banquets and dinners. And they always accompanied the alcohol with a delicious amuse-bouches.
The idea of the gustatio was to mingle and socialize. The main protagonist was the mulsum, a highly alcoholic wine usually mixed with honey and flavored with spices.
Along with it, of course, food: Apicius, the Empire’s own Anthony Bourdain (or Ina Garten), dedicated space to Rome’s favorite “stuzzichini” in his De Re Coquinaria, the Bible of Ancient Rome’s cuisine. Flat breads similar to focaccias served with savory sauces or cheeses, fruit and loads of cruditées, because alas, the Romans already knew that raw vegetables before a meal were good for you.
Thousands of years have passed, but Ancient Rome still trends when it comes to aperitivo. In fact, bars offer the aperitivo in “Ancient Rome” style. One of the most popular activities is the Aperitivo Apiciano in Milan. During this event, participants are surrounded by Milan’s Roman Forum, participants. They sample food and beverages à la Apicius, while learning about the history of the Roman Empire.
…but modern Italian aperitivo was born in Turin
While, according to experts, the tradition of aperitivo was born in the capital, Turin has played a major role.
In Rome, gustatio was only for the elite. That tradition kept all the way throughout the Middle Ages, when only the wealthy could afford it.
Until the 18th century in Turin. In 1786, distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created something new: Vermouth. Vermouth was made from moscato white wine, with the addition of 30 aromatic herbs and spices. This drink had a distinct tang. Carpano used vanilla, saffron, wormwood, and other special ingredients to make his Vermouth. And the receipt carried to modern times. It’s the “Antica Formula” and only the Vermouth manufacturer knows it.
Vermouth was an immediate success. Because it was delicious and affordable. This drink had a heart-warming flavor, perfect during those bitter winters under the Alps. It wasn’t for the wealthy anymore. And the Italian aperitivo was born.
Enter the modern formulas
The consecration of aperitivo came, however, at the beginning of the 20th century. Thanks to the the diffusion of soda waters and seltz, like the popular Campari Soda, the ruby red mix of Campari and seltz. Its reverse-cone shaped bottle is as iconic today as it was in 1932. In the same period, popular mixes like Spritz, Bitter, Rossini and Pirlo also came into being.
Aperitivo, with its cheerful yet elegant nature, is a staple in Italy and has been getting more and more appreciated around the world. An Italian tradition with thousands of years of history and millions of estimators everywhere. Relaxing and cool, there’s no better way to conclude your day, or beginning your night than a Spritz, food and the company of good friends.