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The Negroni, a traditional Italian aperitivo, has long been one of my favorite cocktails. Its distinctive ingredient is Campari, a bitter liqueur made with a closely-guarded formula developed in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. Comprised of alcohol infused with a multitude of fruit and herbs, for decades its vivid color was due to carmine dye, a natural derivative of cochineal beetles. Though this practice was discontinued in 2006, you'll still find Campari's presence in the Negroni announced by its ruby-red hue.
The most popular story of this cocktail’s origin dates to the early 1900s and involves a Count Camillo Negroni. Lore has it that the Count, a regular at Caffè Cassoni in Florence, Italy, asked bartender Fosco Scarcelli to bolster his Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda) with gin instead of soda. With three simple ingredients, a new libation was born.
The classic proportions are equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Garnishing with an orange slice or twist underlines the bitter orange component of Campari. A refreshing Negroni, served over ice or straight up, is my pre-dinner drink of choice, a perfect aperitivo or “palate opener” before a splendid Italian feast, or any time.