First Spritz: Jordan Burich (Sprezzatura)

I woke up sweating, in a small rickety bed, in a schoolhouse, in a little town called Tornareccio, in the Abruzzo–the mountainous region on the Adriatic side of Italy. It was early, about 7:00 AM and already in the upper 80s to low 90s fahrenheit, and it was the first full day of work for us as members of the Sangro Valley Project–a joint archaeological field school comprised mainly of Oberlin College and Oxford University students.

The previous night was a bit of a blur, having been spent at one of the two taverns in town–the “Bar dello Sport.” The owner of that establishment, a gentleman named Fabrizio insisted on pouring us an obscene amount of local grappa straight out of a jerry can or other unconventional container. It could have been weed killer or paint thinner for all I know.

Either way, I woke up feeling like two bucks, and met with the other students. We went through our day, driving in a minibus to visit some local sites including the field in which we were to begin digging several days hence. I think the only two songs that ever played on the radio that summer were “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson and “Only the Horses” by Scissor Sisters so we all sang along as loud as we could, some of us more ironically than others. It was 2012, and it just kept getting hotter. And hotter. It was the beginning of one of Italy’s warmest summers on record.

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The directors called it a day at around 4 PM due to the heat, and we were finally able to explore the town in the daylight hours. I walked around with one of the Oxford students, a woman, (I am blanking on her name) and at some point, she mentioned that she was happy to be in Italy for the first time, so that she could finally have “a proper spritz.” Unbelievably to me now, I had never had one, so we headed down Via Roma toward a small cafe that was just about to open post-siesta.

To our surprise, many of the field supervisors were already at “Bar Revival” for the same reason. We sat down at a table on the patio, the hot plastic chair scorching the back of my legs. Those who know me well can attest to my propensity to wear the shortest shorts I can find–I’ll just leave that comment right there. I was unprepared for the glorious color of the cocktail when it was placed before me, as the Brit did a lousy job explaining the cocktail to me on our trek through town.

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I remember being transported momentarily. All the crusty old dudes ogling my young female colleagues, all the Fifty Shades of Grey recitations, the previous night’s debauchery . . . it all just melted away. I had already been in Italy for about a month at that point, but for the first time that summer I became O.K. with the heat. I felt some kind of “oneness” with the countryside, with my sweat-caked semi-burnt skin. It was as if the most refreshing Italian painkiller had discovered me. And when the water main that provided fresh water to the town ruptured that summer–leaving us without showers or running water–you could find me at Bar Revival sipping on an Aperol Spritz, waving to all the old ladies walking by, every time I heard them shout “Ciao Michael Jordan!”

 

A Little Help From Our Friends

Even in our infancy, we’ve been very fortunate to have received praise from our peers and the press. Things are moving along quite nicely, and frankly, we’re all a bit shocked by the quickness of it all and the intense warmth of the response we’ve gotten! We have over-sold our first two dinners “In Bocca al Lupo, Vol. I” and “A Bitter Embrace” and we could not have done that without the support of our local food critics, food writers, and friends in the business (we love you all). We have a busy summer ahead of us, but we wanted to just take one final look back and post some media blurbs. Here’s a big “thank you” to Lori, Ann, Tariq, Kyle, and Bonnie.

OnMilwaukee | 23 November 2016 | Article

https://onmilwaukee.com/dining/articles/sprezzatura-popup-launch.html

 

Lake Effect (WUWM) | 16 March 2017 | Audio Segment

http://wuwm.com/post/pop-dining-why-because-its-fun#stream/0

 

Milwaukee Magazine | 24 March 2017 | Audio Segment

https://www.milwaukeemag.com/milwaukee-finally-getting-scandinavian-restaurant/?platform

 

OnMilwaukee | 20 March 2017 | Article

https://onmilwaukee.com/bars/articles/word-on-apertifs.html

 

In Review: “In Bocca al Lupo, Vol. 1”

We wanted to just take some time here, to reflect on our first dinner in the “In Bocca al Lupo” series . . . and well, our very first crack at doing pop-ups in general! Needless to say, it wasn’t a flop; in fact, we came out on the other side of a busy day and night refreshed, enthused, triumphant, and a little wine-buzzed. It was lovely.

The night started with an hour-long aperitivo bar with glass pours of wine and some cocktails. On the bar were plates of warm olives, chips, speck wrapped breadsticks–common happy hour fare in the northern reaches of Italy. Fuzzed out and drony dance music played in the background as guests filled a dark and moody restaurant.

Our guests took their seats at long tables set with olive leaves and bay branches, bursting with fresh cut citrus fruits. Beth at FORM floral + fine goods really outdid herself. The tables glowed with the light from dozens and dozens of candles. The music shifted to minimalist piano pieces at a heartbeat rhythm.

I  “Piccoli Morsi”

Bread, Talleggio, Speck, Duck Liver Mousse | Vergano Vermouth Bianco

 

II  “Risotto Doppio”

Gorgonzola, Cherry, Brussel Sprout | Vigneti Massa “Derthona” Timorasso 2012

 

III  “Restauro”

Judion bean, Cabbage, Chicken, Brodo | Ceretto “Blange” Langhe Arneis 2014

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IV  “Antidolci”

Pate di Frutti, Citrus, Persimmon | Brandini Moscato d’Asti 2015

 

V  “Negroni”

Dry gin, Barrel Aged Campari, Cocchi Americano

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And now, the music becomes ever more avant garde with soundscapes, textures, intertwining rhythms. Courses are drawn out and anticipation builds. The layers of context become more clearly defined; each separate aspect of the dinner begins to coalesce . . .

VI  “Terra Calda”

Raviolo, Egg Yolk, Black Truffle | Salvano “Gentilium” Langhe Rosso 2010

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VII  “Coastlines”

Grilled & Stuffed Cuttlefish, Potato, Eggplant, Caper, Olive | Punta Crena “Lumassina” Frizzante 2014

 

VIII  “Osso Bucco Nuovo”

Veal Shank, Pumpkin, Saffron, Mostarda, Marrow, Smoke | Scarpa “La Selva di Moirano” Monferrato Freisa Secco 2009

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IX  “Sip Slowly” & “Dolce Primo”

Barolo Braised Pear, Hazelnut, Creme Anglaise | Fratelli Revello Barolo 2011

Each aspect of what we do in our regionally curated dinner series, “In Bocca al Lupo” is mindfully and artfully prepared. We trace coastlines and run our fingertips over the Italian topography. We talk about landscape and deep histories. We insert layers of sensation and meaning into the evening. There is a progression throughout dinner, there is anticipation; we feast on your senses. We paint with both broad strokes and in fine detail. We put massive amounts of attention into things so that they seem minimalist.

It felt like a dream–a dream we want to dream over and over again. Stay tuned for “In Bocca al Lupo, Vol. 2”

Industry Alert: “Don Ciccio e Figli”

Using her “Holmes-ian” internet sleuthing powers, Caressa recently discovered, and directed me to the website of an up-and-coming amaro producer from Washington DC: the house of Don Ciccio e Figli. They were recently featured in an NPR article because–let’s face it–amaro is finally getting the respect it deserves from people outside of service industry circles. And it’s ABOUT DAMN TIME.

These are sharp-looking products that are sure to catch the eyes of anyone scanning a backbar, and we can’t wait to try them. We’ve reached out to Francesco Amodeo, the master distiller/owner at Don Ciccio e Figli, and it looks like these products will be available (hopefully) within the month with distribution from BreakThru Beverage.

While we may not have these bottles in hand for planning for our next dinner “A Bitter Embrace” it’s always a good time to enjoy bitter spirits such as amari, aperitivi, and fernet. Joining us for our dinner event on 02 March will prepare your palette for these new additions to the amaro category once they hit the shelves this spring. Until then, reserve your seats for “A Bitter Embrace.” Then, make yourself a Negroni, and stay tuned for an upcoming segment on OnMilwaukee all about amari and bitter spirits. Cheers!

Fortify Your Soul, Pt. 2: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

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Piazza Castelo in Torino, where Carpano’s Herbarium was located.

    In our last post, we discussed more esoteric aspects of vermouth’s main ingredient, wormwood. With this latest installment, we are going to fast-forward out of the Classical Greco-Roman world all the way into the Enlightenment, to where the story of modern vermouth begins: in the year 1786, in the city of Torino (Turin). 

     The legend goes a little something like this: A local resident and herbalist named Antonio Benedetto Carpano began mixing botanical ingredients with local moscatel wines–a common practice designed to make herbal medicines and remedies more palatable. He worked and worked in his little shop, until one day, he came up with a winning formula. His herbarium/wine shop happened to have been located on the Piazza Castelo in Torino, near the palace of King Vittorio Amedeo III, and so Carpano sent a case of his newly christened “vermut” to the king. The king found Carpano’s vermouth to be so excellent he decreed that the customary rosolio (rose petal-infused wine) be replaced with Carpano’s vermouth, thus making it the official “royal drink” of Torino.

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         It’s a very fanciful story. What is interesting, though, is how Carpano decided to brand his concoction; “vermouth” is not an Italian word, it is based on the Germanic word wermut for “wormwood.” During the time period that Carpano was perfecting his recipe, the famous Prussian author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was touring Italy, both compiling information on his first, and landmark, scientific work The Metamorphosis of Plants and sight-seeing ancient Greco-Roman architectural sites. As Goethe walked among the ruins of ancient Rome—that first unifying European empire, he searched for the equivalent in the plant world. 

johann_heinrich_wilhelm_tischbein_-_goethe_in_the_roman_campagna_-_google_art_project

Goethe in Italy.

        Though Goethe did not find the primordial ancestor to contemporary plant life (his research came 80 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species) while in Italy, he may have found an acolyte in the herbalist Antonio Carpano. It is interesting to me that, as noted above, Carpano chose to use the German name for wormwood—the main botanical ingredient in his beverage—as its official title. The fortified wine, as we know, was most likely invented by those same Romans who left such monumental marks on the Italian landscape. Perhaps naming his fortified wine “vermut” was Carpano’s ode to the millennia-old interaction between Italo-Roman and Germanic peoples and a celebration of Goethe’s visit and research. Maybe it was love and admiration at first sip for the herbalist and botanist? 

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          Okay, okay . . . enough of the old stories. Let’s talk about some of the tasting notes of Carpano’s vermouth. For the sake of blog post length, we are going to focus on the main brand of Carpano, the one you will most likely find behind your local bar: Carpano Antica Formula. The Carpano website claims that the Antica Formula is the “original recipe” but I think that there are some doubts about that. Either way, the Antica Formula has a light brown or amber color, with vanilla, spiced citrus, clove, raisin, and saffron on the nose. It is rich on the palate with a rounded herbal caramel flavor. Such complexity makes it quite lovely to sip on on the rocks, and it also lends itself as an ideal mixer in spirit-forward cocktails, where one may want to play up subtle notes in say, whiskey or gin, while gently lowering the proof of the cocktail.

           The next time you find yourself at a bar, ask to try this vermouth. It may be familiar to you if you’ve had any of the following cocktails! If you buy a bottle for home use, please remember to keep it refrigerated after you open it, there is a limited shelf life to vermouths. In the recipes below, I have used Carpano Antica in place of traditional, lighter bodied sweet vermouths.

carpano-vintage

“Classic Manhattan”

2 oz bourbon, rye, or whiskey

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

Stir with plenty of ice, and double strain

into martini (or coupe) glass; or into a

rocks glass with a large ice cube. Express

an orange peel around the rim of the

glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry if

desired.

“Negroni”

1 oz London dry gin

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

1 oz Campari

Stir with plenty of ice and double strain

into a rocks glass, over a large cube of ice.

Garnish with half of an orange slice.

“Hanky Panky”

1.5 oz London dry gin

1.5 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

2 or 3 dashes Fernet Branca

Stir with plenty of ice, and double strain into

a martini glass or coupe glass. Express an orange

peel around the rim of the glass, and garnish

an orange peel.

“Americano”

1 oz Campari

1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

1 oz club soda

You can build this simple cocktail right in the glass.

Garnish with an orange slice.

 

A Negroni Anecdote

Many bartenders, myself included, will probably tell you that after a long night at work, there is no better cocktail to sip than the Negroni. The reasons for this are many, but in my mind it is because this cocktail is stark yet complex, prone to infinite variation, and well, really boozy. The following tale is penned by author Marisa Huff in her 2016 book Apertivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy. In it, she tells the tale of the invention of this wonderful drink.

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photo by Michael Olen

“The Negroni is Italy’s greatest contribution to the cocktail world. Personally, I would argue that it is one of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world in general, right up there with the Coliseum and the Vespa.

While nothing beats a Bellini on a lazy June afternoon in Venice, the Negroni is strong enough to stand up to a Boston snowstorm and refreshing enough to handle the Texas heat in August. Made with equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, it’s a dark, bittersweet blend that can match many moods.

The drink is named after Count Camillo Negroni, who inherited his taste for gin from his English mother on his many trips to London. As the story goes, the cocktail Negroni was created in 1919 in Florence by Fosco Scarelli, the then bartender of Caffe Casoni, which was later moved and renamed Caffe Giacosa. Count Negroni was a Casoni regular, allowing Scarelli to get to know him, and his wife, quite well. Apparently the countess wasn’t particularly pleased with her husband’s drinking.

So as a seasoned professional, Scarelli fulfilled and, more important, said nothing of the count’s request to replace the soda water in his Americano with gin, London dry of course. Other Casoni clients caught on to the trick and began ordering their Americanos ‘Negroni-style.’ To an untrained eye, the drinks look identical, and in order to distinguish them, Scarelli would add a whole slice of orange to an Americano, and just a half slice to a Negroni, a subtle gesture worthy of a count.”

 

Fortify Your Soul, Pt. 1: The Mythology of Vermouth

artemisstag

The processes of wine-making and brewing are ancient human practices. And I don’t mean ancient like “knights in shining armor, ancient” I mean, like, “dawn of humanity ancient.” You can find references to alcoholic beverages and drunkenness in older texts such as the Torah, and throughout Classical literature as well. There is a wide breadth of cross-cultural alcohol use in the ancient world, it is not limited to the Mediterranean and the Levant. Important Celtic peoples throughout greater Europe have been found to have been buried with elaborate “drinking equipment” such as ornamented drinking horns and Greek-style wine cauldrons. Further back in time, Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings (25,000 BCE — 8,000 BCE) from as far afield as modern day France, Spain, and India depict the harvesting of honey to make mead, and there are Bronze Age depictions of wine-making from Egyptian tombs and Greek Attic vase paintings.

In general, I think there are a couple of things we can surmise about ancient drinking:      (1) People in the past made and drank fermented beverages because there were not always sources of clean water abundantly and readily available, and so it only seems as though they were drunkards, and (2) the beers, meads, and wines of the ancient world would probably not be to our taste, and may not have even been palatable to the tastes of the ancient people who drank them. The Greeks famously cut their wine with water and deemed anyone who drank it straight to be a “barbarian.” Later, the Romans infused their wine with various herbs, botanicals, and flowers—creating perhaps what we could call “proto-vermouth.” Scholars are unsure if this was done to simply improve the flavor of wines in bad growing seasons or in immaturely aged casks, or if there was a medicinal use for these products, perhaps in aiding digestion.

My thought is that it was most likely for “all of the above” reasons. First, there is no reason to believe that ancient people, especially Romans did not use advanced culinary techniques to improve flavors of food and drink. In fact, there are numerous sources which describe the richness of the Roman table. Check out A Taste of Ancient Rome by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, for example. Secondly, I think the mythology of vermouth—found in its taxonomic name—suggests that certain botanical elements were highly regarded as medicinal plants with spiritual/shamanic properties which if ingested via smoke inhalation, mastication, or infusion could imbue the consumer with visions, hallucinations, heightened sensitivity to “sacred or arcane knowledge,” astral travel, and at the very least protect oneself from evil and bad health. The natural world was full of magical possibilities for many ancient peoples.

The main botanical ingredient of most vermouths is wormwood—a bitter herbaceous plant in the sage family. Its Linnaean taxonomic name is Artemisia absinthium, which not only tells us that absinthe is made with this herb, but also that the Greek goddess Artemis is associated with it—something far more interesting to me as an anthropologist (despite my affection for well-made Sazeracs). The so-called “pagan” myths are filled with gods and goddesses, who are representations of localized nature, natural features, and seasonal cycles. To have a goddess figure associated so closely with a particular plant tells me that that plant was seen as magical and significant to ancient people.

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Artemis (Roman: Diana) is the goddess of the hunt, of moonlight, and all mountains. She is the protector of herds, she is the goddess of childbirth (just after being born she assisted her mother as a midwife while she gave birth to her brother Apollo), and she was chaste—bitterly guarding her virginity. She is regarded by mythographer Robert Graves as an aspect of the much more ancient White Goddess as signified by the phases of the moon, of which Artemis represents the New Moon. She carries a silver bow—which when pulled back resembles the sliver of silvery moonlight associated with her particular lunar phase. She was worshiped in ancient times in many cultures, which points perhaps to a far earlier form of Goddess worship, and was iconographically related to a very ancient title of “Mistress of Animals.”

There is an air of mystery, seductiveness, bitterness and bite to many of the myths surrounding Artemis. One of the most famous tales is here recounted by Robert Graves in The Greek Myths (1960):

“On one occasion, Actaeon, son of Aristaeus, went hunting with a pack of fifty hounds. As he stood leaning against a rock near Orchomenus, he happened to see Artemis bathing in a stream not far off, and he stayed to watch. Lest he should afterwards dare boast to his companions that she had displayed herself naked in his presence, she instantly changed him into a stag and, with his own pack of fifty hounds, tore him to pieces.”

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Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) itself embodies some of Artemis’ attributes. It can be found at higher elevations, in the hills and mountains which are the province of the goddess. And when carefully observed, one notices fine silver hairs growing on each little leaf of the plant—seemingly resembling silvery feathered arrows in a quiver. These hairs tend to make the plant stand out from others in the moonlight, as would be appropriate for a moon goddess don’t you think? Wormwood’s inherent bitterness makes it unpalatable for grazing animals, such as the herds Artemis is said to protect.

One can make the case, I think, that Bronze Age (or earlier) pastoralists probably discovered this plant and its attributes. It is said in a myth that while Artemis discovered wormwood, she entrusted its secrets to Chiron the wise centaur who used it to make medicine. Of all ancient professions, the shepherd would have spent the most time in nature, especially following the seasonal sprouting of wild grasses and grains, following the transhumance routes through hills and valleys up and down Diana’s mountains. They would have known of the medicinal properties of plants, and perhaps when viewed from afar, may have resembled humans with horse’s legs. Apuleius remarks:

“Of these worts that we name Artemisia, it is said that Diana did find them and delivered their powers and leechdom to Chiron the Centaur, who first from these Worts set forth a leechdom, and he named these worts from the name of Diana, Artemis, that is Artemisias.”

Shepherds would be able to recognize these herbs in low light while moving herds through mountain passes and foothills, and the bitterness of their flavor may have helped keep grazers on the path.

 

Diana’s wormwood is only one ingredient in vermouth, albeit the main one, and it’s worth noting that even a brief glimpse into this plant can offer us unique insight into the ancient world—a world inhabited by those who first began creating complex infusions of wine and spirits. How many cups have been sipped while hearing these old tales of the gods and men? The so-called pagan myths are often codified stories of human interaction with nature and with other people, and one can still see them referenced in the modern world—though they were probably understood quite differently by ancient readers and listeners than the way we relate to them today.

I find it interesting to explore the myth behind the ordinary, and studying vermouth and the botanicals used to make it allow us to engage in that sort of thing a little bit; I feel as though such study (as limited as this one is) can allow us to approach cuisine and spirits from a more informed perspective; it allows to become engaged with a deeper history and find, hopefully, a deeper appreciation of the seemingly mundane. Cheers!