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Salute! The Ritual of the Italian Aperitivo & Apericena

Nobody understands the welcoming embrace of hospitality quite like the Italians. Making every guest feel essential seems to be a core cultural value. In fact, this concept can be evident at bars and restaurants throughout Italy in the form of the time-honored tradition of aperitivo. 

Aperitivo is a drinking tradition in Italy following the workday, like the American happy hour, but with a tad more well, hospitality. Aperitivo is as much about the drinks (typically lower ABV), and the small bites that are served as it is about the atmosphere.

“The aperitivo as a ritual is a social gathering, when people basically get together and they drink stimulating drinks and of course, they eat little small bites, while they recap the day with colleagues and friends, and they brush off all the frustrations of the day while kicking off the evening at the same time,” said Master Mixologist Livio Lauro during a webinar with the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG). “Obviously, there are similarities to the American happy hour, but it’s intended to be a little more social.”

“When I happy hour in America, I happy hour with my two or three friends; but when I’m aperitivoing in Italy, I’m aperitivoing with everyone in the room,” said Lauro during Tales of the Cocktail 2021. “It’s a mindset that you’re with a conglomerate of people and enjoying that.” 

The tradition of aperitivo has also given rise to the apericena, which puts an emphasis on the food. 

So, forget what you know about cocktail hours and Italian meals, because aperitivo and apericena can bring an entirely different ethos to any of your future events. 

Aperitivo 101

Unlike American happy hour, aperitivo is not about downing a couple of cheap beers to forget the day you had at work. It is about easing out of the day and whetting the appetite for the evening meal.

Aperitivo is not just a ritual however, it is also a type of Italian liqueur typically enjoyed during aperitivo, such as Campari, Luxardo, Casoni, Aperol, and Risolio. However, aperitivo can also be a generic name for any type of drink enjoyed during aperitivo (similar to the way Americans use “cocktail” interchangeably).

“You can have an aperitivo for your aperitivo at the aperitivo,” Lauro said during the USBG webinar, with a wry smile. 

The basics of aperitivo are:  

Drinks to order: Common aperitivo cocktails include Negroni, Aperol Spritz, Bellini, Prosecco, or a small beer. 

Snacks to expect: Typically a mix of small sandwiches, chips, olives, or nuts.

Once the aperitivo concludes, patrons will typically return home to ready themselves for the evening’s meal. 

Apericena 101

Whereas aperitivo is about beverages, apericena (aperto is “to open” and cena is “dinner”) is the middle ground between a full-blown dinner and some nibbles (risottos, bruschetta, salads, crostini, roasted vegetables, pasta and cured meats), traditionally served buffet-style.

“By no stretch do I want the apericena to be compared to a buffet,” Lauro said. “The only buffet-like portion of it is the fact that you can grab your food at a buffet.”

Apericena originated within university areas as a response to the needs of college students. 

“They’re broke, but they’re foodies,” Lauro said, “and the apericena answers their need of ‘how can we, without a lot of money, look pretty, eat good food, and socialize with the right people?’”

The apericena, however, can be controversial among restauranteurs. 

“They can’t reconcile the idea of giving away food,” Lauro said, “but there’s mathematical proof that when you eat salty food, you order an extra drink, and the drinks are where you’re making your money. Patrons are feeding themselves and the food is fueling their thirst, and their thirst is what you’re making money off of.”

Take a page out of the Italian playbook for your next event with these easygoing, easy-sipping cocktails. Better still: add a few snacks (cicchetti) while you’re at it! 

Shakerato

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

2.5 oz Campari
2 drops saline solution
1 dash orange flower water
Orange twist, for garnish

Method

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker.
  2. Add ice and shake eight to 10 seconds.
  3. Strain into chilled coupe
  4. Garnish with orange twist.

Negroni Bianco 

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

1 oz dry gin
1 oz Luxardo Bitter Bianco liqueur, or something similar
1 oz white (bianco) vermouth
Orange wedge, for garnish

Method

  1. Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and slightly stir.
  2. Garnish with orange slice and serve.

 

The perfect pairing

During both aperitivo and apericena, small bites, also known as cicchetti, are served alongside drinks. Here are a few of the options you may consider for your next event. 

  • Polpettes (miniature meatballs)
  • Chips
  • Crostinis
  • Olives
  • Chicken wings
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Taralli (similar to a cracker or pretzel)
  • Nuts
  • Fruit
  • Cheese selection
  • Savory pies or tarts
  • Pickles
  • Cured meats
  • Arancinis (fried risotto balls)
  • Tramezzinis (mini triangular sandwiches)
  • Paninis
  • Pasta salads
  • Focaccia
  • Pizza
  • Fried fish
  • Bruschetta
  • Pâté
  • Couscous
  • Breadsticks
  • Biscotti

Garibaldi

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

1 ½ oz Campari
4 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
Orange wedge, for garnish

Method

  1. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.
  2. Add the Campari and orange juice and stir to combine.
  3. Garnish with an orange wedge.

Italian Spritz

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

3 oz prosecco (or sparkling wine of your choice)
1 oz aperitif of choice, such as Aperol or Campari
2 oz club soda or sparkling water (optional, to taste)
Lemon slice, for garnish
Rosemary sprig, for garnish

Method

  1. Fill a large wine glass with ice.
  2. Add your aperitif of choice, then sparkling wine. Stir gently to combine. Top with soda. Top with soda.
  3. Garnish and enjoy

Bellini

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients for the Peach Purée

4 ea. medium white peaches, pitted and quartered
3 ice cubes
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ oz simple syrup (or 1 T sugar)

Method

  1. In a blender or food processor, add the peaches, ice, lemon juice, and simple syrup (or sugar)
  2. Blend until smooth

Ingredients for Bellini

2 oz peach purée
4 oz chilled prosecco, or sparkling white wine
Peach slice, for garnish

Method

  1. Pour peach purée into champagne flute.
  2. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.
  3. Slowly top with sparkling wine while gently stirring to incorporate. If you like, garnish with a slice of peach, either slit and rested on the rim or dropped into the glass.

Amber Kispert

Content Producer

Amber is the Content Producer for Catersource. Amber previously worked as a Communications Specialist for LeClair Group and a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin, both located in Woodbury, Minn.  As a self-described "foodie," Amber loves to experience the world of food and beverages, and is excited to help share the stories of Catersource and the world's caterers.