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The Art of Italian Aperitivo was born in Milan

Aperitivo, the beloved Italian pre-dinner ritual, has been gaining popularity around the world in recent years. It is a time-honoured tradition that allows people to unwind, socialise, and enjoy light bites and refreshing cocktails before dinner.

The tradition of aperitivo has its roots in my hometown, the city of Milan in Italy and dates back to the 18th century. It was originally meant to stimulate the appetite before dinner and aid digestion. Today, it has become a social event where friends and family gather to catch up and unwind after a long day at work.

Milan is known worldwide as the capital of fashion and design, but it has also been the cradle of many leading food and beverage companies. A sector that boasts a rich history, which is intertwined with that of Fiera di Milano (Milan Trade Fair): not everyone knows that many brands saw the light - or achieved their first success - during the fair. Indeed, there are many episodes in which Fiera di Milano played a key role in the creation of what we now know as 'the Italian aperitivo ritual'. Let's explore some of them then, and learn more about the most important brands of this tradition thanks to the stories collected by the Fondazione Fiera Milano (Milan Trade Fair Foundation) historical archive.

Zucca "Il Rabarbaro"

Zucca Rabarzucca stand at the Milan Trade Fair in 1963, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano

Before Caffè Camparino - a historic belle epoque style café founded in in 1867 in the heart of Milan (in front of the Duomo), there was Bar Zucca owned by the Milanese spirits brand Rabarbaro Zucca from 1996 to 2012. This company's history is inextricably linked to Milan: it was here that its classic bitter was born in 1845, when Ettore and Tilde Zucca experimented with a mix of rhubarb and other natural flavourings in their craft workshop. It was their son Carlo who, with a great entrepreneurial spirit, transformed a simple attempt into a business on an industrial scale: a successful formula that his grandsons Emilio and Gerolamo later took beyond the city limits.

Amaro Ramazzotti

1848 - The first Ramazzotti bar In Milan.

Amaro Ramazzotti is certainly one of the few brands that can claim to have attended the Milan Fair for over 50 years in a row. But where was it born? It is said that, in 1815, a pharmacist named Ausano Ramazzotti began experimenting with different flavour combinations, using ingredients from all over the world with the main aim of producing a flavoured drink. After several attempts in his laboratory in Milan, he gained the recipe of what we know today as Amaro Ramazzotti.

This liqueur is made by macerating 33 species of herbs, spices and roots, according to a recipe that is still secret today and has been handed down from generation to generation. The only ingredients in the public domain are still the following: Sicilian orange peels, star anise, cardamom and cloves. A few years later in 1848, Mr Ramazzotti opened a bar in the city centre of Milan where he began serving Amaro Ramazzotti. The rest is history.


Campari kiosk at the 1977 Milan Trade Fair, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano

Now a global leader and owner of numerous other beverages, Campari is famous for its historic soda and boasts a past with artistic roots. The company was founded by Gaspare Campari who opened a distillery in Milan in 1860, later followed by the Caffè Camparino in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II near Duomo in the very heart of Milan. In 1932, the start of Campari Soda production was accompanied by an effective advertising campaign, with posters whose creativity was entrusted to Fortunato Depero and other artists of the time. Even the iconic 'inverted goblet' shape of the bottle was an idea of the great futurist painter.

Futuristic poster by Fortunato Depero, 1928

Futuristic posters by Fortunato Depero

Futuristic posters by Fortunato Depero

Futuristic posters by Fortunato Depero

Fratelli Branca Distilleries

Campari kiosk at the 1977 Milan Trade Fair, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano

Known for the iconic bitters Brancamenta and Fernet Branca, Fratelli Branca Distillerie was founded in 1845 in Milan by Bernardino Branca, who, like other colleagues, wanted to experiment with new medicinal remedies in his Milanese laboratory. By 1905, the company's logo - an eagle with outstretched wings, grasping a bottle with its paws and flying above the world, designed by the painter Leopoldo Metlicovitz in full Art Nouveau style - was designed to conquer bars, restaurants and pastry shops all over the world. The official registration dates back to that year. In 2009 Branca's offsprings opened the museum Collezione Branca to the public, contributing to Italy's important industrial and manufacturing past.

Fernet Branca advertising poster and official logo of the company «Fratelli Branca Distillerie» created by designer Leopoldo Metlicovitz in 1901

Aperitivo is not just about the drinks, however. It is also about the food. Traditionally, aperitivo was accompanied by simple snacks such as olives, nuts, and potato chips. Today, it has evolved to include a variety of small plates, or "cicchetti," that are perfect for sharing. Some popular options include crostini with various toppings, cured meats, and cheeses.

Overall, aperitivo is a wonderful way to experience Italian culture and hospitality. Whether you are in Italy or abroad, take some time to enjoy this delightful pre-dinner ritual with friends and family. Cheers to the art of aperitivo!

Fratelli Averna stand at the Milan Trade Fair, 1967, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano

Distilleria F.lli Barbieri stand at the Milan Trade Fair, 1963, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano

Cinzano tasting and sale kiosk at the Milan Trade Fair, 1953, ph. courtesy Archivio Fondazione Fiera Milano



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