(photo of a vintage Campari and soda bottle from Wikimedia commons)
Campari is my favorite drink. Originally introduced in the 1860s in Milan as a health tonic, the refreshing drink became popular as an apertivo, meant to accompany appetizers or small bites as a meal opening (called antipasto in Italian) like bread, cheese, sliced meats and vegetable spreads. Technically, Campari is in the bitters family of alcohols because it's made by steeping herbs and orange peel in spirits. (The full recipe is a secret, apparently.) The host or hostess can also serve it to visually indicate when it is time to start eating. The gorgeous bold red color originally came from cochineal dye but the company switched to artificial color in 2006. Because the drink works well with light fare, it is especially popular in the summer in Italy.
I enjoy it year round. And any time, especially after a late movie. Soda is the most common mixer for Campari, sometimes with a twist of lime which is tasty and bonus - makes a dazzling color combo dangling at the end of your hand. (What can I say? I love to accessorize!) I also like Campari straight up and on a few rocks but that is an acquired taste for most people. For newcomers to this cocktail, I recommend squeezing some citrus and measuring heavy on the soda. I introduced it to a friend recently who finally took a liking to it with fresh-squeezed juice of a small orange. Once you've taken a liking to it, though, Campari is fantastic. More bitter than other alcoholic beverages, it refreshes your palate and does not conflict when leaping between food flavors which makes life for a foodie like me, very easy. And it's light with a kick. It doesn't grow old or leave a lingering after taste. I don't seem to ever over indulge or fill up on Campari, either. (Well, okay, not as much.) And finally, for me, Campari delivers style. The bottle, it's label and the drinks mixed from it are handsome, unassuming and classic. Especially if we are using our own soda-making bottle and the preparation come with Cary Grant elegance. The company has a long history of fantastic advert posters, too. They have several posted on the copany's website (which is has a futuristic clever tone but can be troublesome to navigate).
According to the trusty guide Rick Steve, "Campari is best when accompanied by salty snacks..." which makes even more sense to me!
P.S. If you are interested in Italian culture and cuisine, I would recommend Ms. Adventures in Italy. From what I have seen, her information is contemporary, accurate and has great photos.