“Hold the Beetles and Stale Peeps” or Lessons from Campari—Part 2

In a world so often defined by the mundane and ordinary, sometimes it’s important the mix things up, act boldly, and endeavor to live (and taste) in full, vibrant color!  Red, to be specific!  It’s been a week since my first post outlining four things I learned from Campari, the bitter crimson liqueur from Italy. I’m going to wrap up my musings on the subject with a further five lessons I gleaned from the drink championed by the likes of Lady Gaga and Tennessee Williams.  So, without further ado. . .


Whether it’s your super-abrasive Aunt Lydia, or a bitter Italian liqueur, sometimes it’s worth wrinkling your nose a little bit to get to the good stuff.  For Aunt Lydia, you can hardly blame her—the love of her life left her at the alter, so years later she ended up marrying your deadbeat Uncle George, had a bunch of ungrateful kids that kept her from

By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain

realizing her dreams of painting landscapes in the French Riviera, and now she spends most of her time working her way to the bottom of a box of Chardonnay.  But send her a birthday card or talk to her about painting at Easter dinner, and next thing you know she’s smiling and warm.  Don’t be surprised if she crochets you a really cozy afghan next winter, because beneath that hard, nasty exterior, she’s really sweet inside!

In the case of Campari, the bitter comes from cascarilla bark.

While you might have to suffer through the cascarilla’s bite to get to the cotton-candy sweet character of Campari, the bitter itself has its benefits.  Cascarilla has been shown to have some medical benefits, such as being a fever reducer.  You’re not going to get that from Captain Morgan. . .


It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since I fully embraced the wonders of Campari.  Over that time I’ve gotten more than a little evangelical on its behalf.  As I’ve said a time or two, I can be a pretty intense person. As I’ve pushed Campari on the people in my life, I’ve learned that real, enduring friendship can motivate us to do things we wouldn’t even consider otherwise.  Maybe only a handful of people I’ve gotten to try it actually liked it, but guess what?  No one has spit it out!  They just grimace, shudder, and gratefully swallow whatever palate cleanser I’ve got on hand for afterwards.


While it is totally human to want to share what we are passionate about, we can derive pleasure from our passions even if no one else is interested.  We’ve all got something like this, don’t we?  I know I’ve got a few—enough to write a full post about—but Campari is the one that initially comes to mind.  When my husband and I are out on the town with our friends, I guarantee I’m the only one who is going to order a Negroni.  Hell, I might even have to tell the bartender how to make one.  But that doesn’t make me enjoy the drink any less.  It’s something I love, and it doesn’t matter if no one else gets it.

You probably know someone who likes marshmallow peeps.  You probably know someone who likes stale marshmallow peeps.  That is something I’ll never understand, but, you know what?  More power to them, and, uh. . . more peeps to them too.  Please, take them all!


I’ll be honest, I don’t drink Campari very often.  Leading up to last week’s post, I bought a bottle, and it’s probably the first time I’ve had it in over a year.  Life is too short to always have the same cocktail, and as much as I like it, Campari can taste aggressive.  So even though I don’t have it all the time. . .


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Revenge is better with a side of bacon. . . 

Photo by ANDREA CHU – Bon Appetit December 2009

My life is so much better because I learned to love it!  In my quest to actually enjoy Campari, I trained my palate to accept a whole new family of bitter flavors.  Grapefruit?  Walk in the park. Radicchio and escarole?  I’d never have made that delicious pancetta lasagna if I didn’t know I could handle the bitter.  New England people may know of Moxie, the famously bitter soft drink that is so celebrated in Maine.  Every time we head north I make sure to grab a couple bottles.  These are flavors and experiences I’d never have had without Campari.

The moral is, when we go outside our comfort zone we might just discover everything we’ve been missing.

And finally. . .


Until 2006, Campari derived its iconic red coloring from Carmine, a food coloring made from farmed, dried, crushed Cochineal beetles.  Woah, disgusting, right?  You’d be surprised how many food products continue to use Carmine, which also goes by the names Crimson Lake and Natural Red 4.  You’ve probably eaten beetles in the form of red velvet cake, or strawberry yogurt.  Maybe a sweetened juice drink.

I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with consuming red beetle shells, but, you know. . . just thought you should know.  They’re out there.

Not in Campari though.  For the past eleven years it’s been colored artificially, so drink up, confident no beetles were harmed in its production.

Thanks as always for reading.  Next Wednesday I’ll return with more surprisingly relevant lessons from food.  If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it, and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, or sign up for my monthly mailing list below.

Now, go have a Negroni!

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