The wonderful French phrase l’heure de l’apéro means you’re done working and it’s time to kick off your shoes and settle in to a drink as a prelude to a pleasant evening. It’s like cocktail hour, but with a nuance of difference. The drinks are generally not cocktails but variations on wine, and on festive occasions — or even ordinary occasions — amuse-bouches are served with the drinks. For example, lacy chips baked from grated parmesan.
Tuiles au parmesan / Parmesan apéritif chips
Golden and bursting with flavor, these chips can be made in half an hour or less. They take their name — tuiles translates as ’tiles’ — from the curved roof tiles seen across southeast France. You grate the cheese, bake it in mounds in the oven and shape the baked rounds around a rolling pin to give them their distinctive form.
Amuse-bouches (‘amuse the mouth’) — or, more common in every sense of the word, amuse-gueules — are a step up from the usual cocktail hour munchies in that the term implies more than nuts or olives. They range from the elaborate to the earthy, for example the Burgundy cheese puffs known as gougères. Typical drinks to serve with something like parmesan chips would be a good wine of any color, Champagne or maybe a kir.
As for l’heure de l’apéro, when it begins is open to interpretation. When the sun goes over the yardarm is one way of looking at it, but in Paris that can mean 4 p.m. in winter and 10 p.m. in summer. So the concept is usually that apéritif hour starts about an hour before dinner time — or lunch time, for that matter, on weekends. Actually you can still see workmen gathered at café counters to indulge in their first glass of white at 7 in the morning, but that wouldn’t count as an apéro — it’s just a way to start the day.
Whenever you choose to set the clock, you will certainly please the palates of your guests with these parmesan chips. In fact, when I made the ones shown above, with olives alongside, they disappeared within minutes.