In Venice I couldn't walk very much as I was in the throes of knee joint issues. So we ended up spending a relatively high proportion of time in our hotel room watching Italian MTV. This led to seeing a series of ads featuring Salma Hayek undulating her bejeweled way down a marble hotel corridor, ever closer to the elusive liqueur that is Campari.
On one hand, ads are pretty repulsive; on the other, neither of us had ever had Campari before. The internet said it was bitter. We love bitters! We bought some this weekend.
Campari looks a lot like grenadine, but that is where the similarity stops. More precisely, it hits a brick wall and falls oozing to the pavement. Where grenadine is sickly sweet and viscous, like highly sugared cough syrup, Campari is bitter and thin. The taste changes from very slightly fruity at the front of the mouth to intense and herbal at the back. It makes you realize exactly where the bitter receptors fall on your tongue. Remember how you felt when you first tried white grapefruit as a hyperactive 6-year-old? The experience is pretty similar. Campari is clearly an acquired taste for an adult palate. Let's acquire that taste.
The classic Campari drink is the Negroni. The official recipe: equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin, with lemon or orange peel. We tried another recipe with different proportions as well: 1 part sweet vermouth, 2 parts Campari, and 3 parts gin. The original recipe won our taste test, as Campari needs some sweetness to stand up to it. Either that, or it needs a dilutant: the Campari and soda, 1.5 oz topped with soda, also works pretty well.
Both these drinks are definite aperitifs; they require slow sipping, and you'll want something else afterward. They're also some of the cherry-reddest drinks of all time, so don't spill them.
What should you eat afterward, or even with them? I certainly wouldn't recommend the Japanese rice crackers I was having. Maybe a good plate of antipasto, with marinated olives and red pepper and strong parmesan chunks, and then a gigantic plate of pasta. That would be tasty. I wouldn't mind.