Pastis – the Milk of Provence

Following the ban of Absinthe in France in 1915 there was a demand to find a palatable alternative.  Absinthe contains wormwood which was known to have hallucinogenic effects and could be attributed to mental health issues. Star Anise was found to produce an acceptable alternative and Jules Pernod managed to change the recipe of this potent liqueur for the authorised use of Anis.

It became an overnight success.

Meanwhile the father of Paul Ricard was producing his own “brew” of Pastis at the back of his wine merchants in Marseille. Paul saw a golden opportunity and began the distill his own brand of Pastis selling to local restaurants and bistros. Finally in 1932 Paul Richard began a marketing campaign that took him across Provence selling “Le Vrai Pastis de Marseille”. He continued to expand his brand across France with intelligent promotions and inventive marketing.

In 1975 Jules Pernod and Paul Richard combined to become one of the largest distillers in the world. However, across the wine growing regions of Provence you may find local farmers and wine producers distilling their own liqueurs with varying degrees of potency! Although we could not recommend it Pastis can be brewed at home with ingredients such as star anise, liquorice root, fennel, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, peppercorns, vodka, sugar and water. If you enjoy a Pastis we would suggest buying the real version, as with an alcohol content of around 45% caution should rule. 

Naturally there are other brands such as Janot, Berger, Bargain and many more. Across the Mediterranean similar drinks exists, Ouzo in Greece, Raki in Turkey, but the taste of true Pastis cannot be mistaken from its origins of Provence.

Pass by any café in the local villages and it is likely you will find the true locals enjoying a morning tipple of the favourite drink of Provence. Never rushed, taken at leisure. A glass of Pastis and a carafe of water (mixing 1 part to 5 parts water) and a bowl of olives on the side. The scent of aniseed rises as the water is added and the contents turn a milky white. 

After one refreshing and invigorating glass, “would you like another sir”? will be easy to respond to with a resounding “oui merci”. Take care and make sure you have a driver with you! 

Cooking with Pastis is simple and gives an enriching flavour to fish or shellfish.  

Prawns or Langoustines with Pastis become so easy, gently fry in butter some crushed garlic and finely chopped shallots and a pinch of saffron. Add the fresh shellfish, cooking for two or three minutes, turning over the gentle heat. Add a dessertspoon of Pastis, a spoon of double cream, season to taste and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley et Voilà.

A simple sauce for Scallop or Salmon – in the same way, adding a little cream and chopped dill or chives. Delicious. Bon Appetite!