Yesterday, in a perfect moment whilst I was enjoying my perfect aperitivo in a perfect place with my perfect husband, I started looking around at all of the people who had the same bright idea as us, enjoying the aperitivo time …. when a question came to mind:
How many of these people and of all those who enjoy the aperitivo moments and of all those who read this post know that the aperitivo was born right here in Turin? And not even a short time ago … it was exactly in 1786, in Piazza Castello at the corner of Via Viotti, under the arcades were there was a liquor shop where Antonio Benedetto Carpano worked as a shop assistant, who appreciated the qualities of Muscat decided to try to flavour it with wormwood, aromatic herbs and spices. The result was excellent. Carpano baptized the drink “Vermouth“, from the German Wermut which means absinthe as it is the ingredient that characterizes the drink. The Vermouth was immediately a great success among the nobility of Turin who consumed it before lunch, just like an aperitivo to whet the appetite.
The practice of the aperitivo spread and consolidated in the following decades always linked to the name Carpano and the liquor shop of Piazza Castello. When in 1870 a stockbroker, who was a regular customer, wanted to celebrate the growth in the stock market of some shares by one and a half points, he ordered the usual Vermouth Carpano but with the addition of a bitter called “China” and asked for it to be made in the proportion of one point of Vermouth and half of China, but in the Piedmontese dialect a “punt e mes“. Hence one of the first aperitivo cocktails in history was born.
The “punt e mes” became famous and so did the way to order it, in the typical simplicity of the Piedmontese: performing the gesture of the “one” with a thumbs up and then followed by the gesture for the “half” by slicing your hand, palm down, through the air horizontally from the left to right. And that is why today when you exit the Porta Susa Station in Turin you will find an art installation of a sphere suspended on a half-sphere. When in 1960 it was asked to Armando Testa of Turin, a great artist and visionary publicist, to think of an advertisement for Punt and Mes, he chose to represent exactly the same essence of Piedmontese simplicity: a sphere – to represent the point – suspended above a half-sphere – his representation of the half. The Punt and Mes. Armando Testa. The essentiality.
Who knows how many people passing absently in front of the old Porta Susa Station recognize in that installation, in the centre of the roundabout, our history. This our history. The Punt and Mes. Who knows how many tourists, visitors, commuters and students come out daily from the station of Porta Susa and do not know that that installation is a representative part of our history? It is a reference to our essentiality, as well as to two great, successful products that have changed the history of all Italians a little: the aperitivo and advertising. Two inventions and Torinese products.
Punt e Mes continued to be produced in Turin, but from the beginning of 1900’s the increased market demands had highlighted the need to open a real factory for the production and bottling of Vermouth, so the company Carpano established in 1909 its production in a large peripheral building in the Lingotto zone of Turin (and shortly thereafter the Fiat Lingotto plant was born in front of this plant). The production continued in that building, which was restructured and enlarged over time, until 1996, when the Carpano brand was acquired by Fratelli Branca Distillery and the factory was abandoned as production was moved to their existing plant in Milan.
About ten years later, with a highly successful industrial re-use operation, the Carpano plant became the first Eataly site in Italy. Who of you knew it?