The French have mastered the art of joie de vivre (joy of living). Take the very French ritual of l’apéro. This is the time of day after work that is celebrated with a drink and snack before dinner. It’s not just about the food and drink (though those are certainly important). It’s about relaxing with friends and taking a moment to reset and appreciate life. Here’s how to create a French apéro at home, when you can’t get to Paris.
How to Create a French Apéro at Home
In Paris, l’apéro usually happens in the early evening, from around 6:00 pm through 9:00 pm—depending on dinner time. The idea is to stimulate the appetite, but not ruin dinner. There’s no time limit either. The French are certainly not ones to set time restrictions on fun, and sometimes the apéro doubles as dinner (a.k.a. apéritif dînatoire, an aperitif dinner.)
What to Drink for a French Apéro
Traditional French apéro drinks are lightly alcoholic, as the goal is to tease the taste buds—not to get too tipsy. Traditional apéro drinks include wine — something light, dry and acidic like a Provençal rosé or a Chablis is a great option. You could do red wine as well, but opt for something light-bodied like a Beaujolais or Burgundy. Sparkling wine such as Crémant or Champagne wouldn’t go amiss either. In the South of France, the drink of choice is the anise-flavored spirit called pastis, which is enjoyed mixed with water or a few ice cubes.
While the French are not one of Europe’s main brewing countries, beer is still popular in France and makes a good addition to the apéro hour. If you’re recreating a Parisian apéro at home, try and find some French beers to include like Castelain, La Coulette or Kronenbourg. You can order them online or try a specialty grocer. (A word of warning: Some European beers are very high proof by American standards, so do drink responsibly!)
It’s not uncommon to see fortified wine during l’apéro either, so if you’re in the mood to experiment, whip out a bottle of vermouth (in France, it’s often served chilled or with ice), or Lillet Blanc, which is an aromatic sweet wine from Podensac. Try it cold with a lemon twist, and pretend you’re staring out at the Eiffel Tower from your Parisian apartment. There’s no shortage of French tipples to try either, so feel free to try something new.
What to Eat for French Apéro
When recreating French apéro at home, don’t forget about the snacks, which are equally as important as the drink. Focus on food that is easily shared. Go for many little options rather than one or two dishes, and above all—don’t try so hard. There’s no need to slave over a hot oven. Apéro is all about enjoying life’s simple pleasures, such as salted nuts, olives or tapenade and radishes with butter and sea salt (it’s delicious—trust us!). You could also opt for small pickles and charcuterie (dried meats).
You cannot go wrong with a good French cheese selection. There are an uncountable number of French cheeses to choose from, but crowd-pleasers include Camembert, Comté and Bleu d’Auvergne. Arrange the cheeses by strength and be sure to take your cheese out of the fridge an hour before serving, so that the subtle flavors can be best appreciated. Don’t forget some crusty bread or crackers. Also, if you do feel like cooking, try making some gougères, French cheese puffs made with Gruyère.
Enjoy your apéro outdoors—ideally at a bistro table at sunset. Set the mood with linen napkins and a very French playlist of vintage jazz. Then, all that’s left to do to create a French apéro at home is practice your French and dream of your next trip to Paris Santé!
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