From the wine to the cheese course, the French are known to take their meals very seriously. One of the most important steps in France is the aperatif at the beggining, and the digestif at the end of the meal. French digestifs can come in the form of an espresso, but commonly it will be in the form of some pretty strong alcohol. While the aperatif starts the meal in style, the idea behind the digestif is, as the name suggests, to help with the digestion of the normally huge meal that has gone before it.
In this article we will run through some of the most common aperatifs and digestifs you will find on the menu in Provence.
For the aperatif there are two classics which take an important place on every respecting menu. These are the kir and, this being Provence, pastis. While many will drink pastis to quench the thirst throughout the day, it is also a good replacement for a starter.
Kir: Kir tends to come in two forms; Royale or not. A kir classic is with creme de cassis (a blackcurrant liquor) and white wine, and a royale is with champagne instead of the wine. A much favoured drink across the land, it is the ideal drink to toast with and has a sweet, soothing flavour. If you are planning to make one in your villa yourself, traditional quantities are 9 parts wine or champagne for every one part creme de cassis. You may also find that a peach liquor replaces blackcurrant on some menus.
Pastis: On the other end of the scale is pastis, which has a marmite-esque quality to it in that you will probably either love it or hate it. If you are not a fan of liquorice it is certainly one to miss. However, it is a typical Provencal speciality. Pastis is anise flavoured and grew up as a replacement for absynth, though anise flavoured drinks have always been popular in the Mediterranean from Greece (ouzo) to Italy (sambuca). It takes its base flavour from green herbs. A typical bottle of pastis will be around 45% in alcohol, but it is diluted with water and ice, turning it the milky, cloudy colour. Traditionally you add five parts of water for every one part of pastis.
Once you have finished your meal, you are bound to want something to help with the digestion. If you eschew a coffee in favour of a small glass of something else, here are three options you are likely to find:
Armagnac: Armagnac is a strong brandy which hails from the south west region of Gascony. It is the oldest brandy distilled in France and is a result of white wine production. As such it is made with grapes and later aged in a wooden barrel. One of the stronger alcohols on this list, a typical bottle may be around 43%. If you do not see armagnac on the menu, it is likely that you may be able to try cognac, a fairly close relative instead.
Calvados: Unlike cognac and armagnac which are made with grapes, calvados is made from apples or pears and is a distillation of cider. Originally from Normandy, the fruit is fermented as a juice and forms a dry cider. Once the cider has been produced, this is then distilled and aged in an oak barrel for at least two years. The flavour has therefore a strong hint of apple and pear, though the longer the drink is aged, the more it will start to resemble other brandies.
Limoncello: Certainly something you will spot on the menu if you are in the east of Provence and closer to the Italian border. As the name suggests, limoncello has a fairly strong lemon flavour and acts as both a palate cleanser and a digestion aid. Depending on your opinion, it is probably one of the easier digestifs in the list and tends to be slightly lighter with an ideal strength of approximately 30%. Although a traditional Italian drink, Limoncello is produced in Menton, France, whose February lemon festival is a fantastic day out for anyone visiting the area at the time.
A note of warning, if you are flying and planning on taking one of these delights back home, please remember to buy the bottle once past security. After all, you wouldn’t want to drink it all in one go. Other than that, drink responsibly and cheers!