Cookies from Southern Italy
Oct 092009

This past weekend we had our annual wine-making day. We buy Zinfandel grapes from a farmer (no, we don’t grow our own grapes here in the Bay Area) and then crush them in my dad’s basement, which is where he makes and stores wine, and cures salumi.

Zinfandel grapes

My entire family works for a couple of hours until all the grapes are crushed. I then steal some of the juice to make mosto cotto.

The ancient Greeks in Calabria were the ones who began cooking grape juice and using it as a sweetener. In fact the original mostaccioli cookies were made with flour and mosto cotto. People in Calabria would even drizzle it on top of freshly fallen snow for a scirobetta. It is very sweet, with a concentrated grape flavor and a taste of caramel. Nowadays it has been replaced with honey. In other regions of Italy mosto cotto is also known as sapa.

There are many traditional desserts still made in Calabria that use mosto cotto, most of them at Christmas time. People use it to sweeten cuccia, a porridge-like dessert of cooked wheat berries for Santa Lucia Day, December 13. It is also used in the filling of petrali, cookies filled with dried figs and nuts, as well as a tossing for turdilli, a sweet fried dough.

I think it’s wonderful to drizzle on top of pecorino cheese and pears, or ice cream, or homemade ricotta. You can use it wherever you would use a dark honey.

To make mosto cotto you must buy wine grapes that are high in sugar, which means that ordinary table grapes won’t work. After crushing them, you get unfiltered grape juice:

Unfiltered must juice

You can see the seeds and skins still in the juice. After you filter it, bring the juice to a boil in a pot, then skim it:

Skimming grape must

Slowly cook it until it is reduced by 2/3 the original volume.

Reduced mosto cotto

This will take close to 2 hours. Watch it carefully towards the end so you don’t over-reduce it or burn it. It should have the thickness of maple syrup:

Mosto cotto syrup

Cool the syrup, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, and decant it into clean bottles with a cork or clasp seal. Store it in a cool, dark pantry or refrigerate. It will keep for at least a year.

Mosto cotto

I hope that some of you who have access to wine grapes will try this out; making it has become a lost art, even in Calabria.

  31 Responses to “How to make mosto cotto”


    So interesting. I have heard of this and are very impressed that you make this right here in the States! I need to try this sometime. Great post.


    Rosetta: Thank you very much for such a lovely lunch. It would have been totally Calabrian if we had had the fresh air from the “Tirreneo” ; but we cannot have everything. I made “mustu” this weekend, The cab. grapes had a 27 brix and it came out great. Ciao!! Saluti a mamma e papa.



    I am glad you made the mosto cotto … I have tried it with different red wine grapes and it works well … the key is to make sure the grapes have a sugar level above 25%.


    I’m glad to see that you are still evoking the sapa. I can see it’s like the mosto cotto.
    In the Salento, Gallipoli, Lecce, Terre d’Otranto… we call it “lu cottu” and we use it, as you said, over many dishes especially what we call “le pittule”. You may visit this site to read about our gastronomy
    We try to keep our traditions alive and what you are doing is wonderful.


    We have a similar dessert in Calabria at Christmas time like the pittule. Most people have replaced the mosto cotto with honey as fewer people are making the mosto cotto. One of my goals of this blog is to keep those traditions alive.


    Absolutely wonderful site you have. Had no knowledge that you could use grapes in such a creative way. This inspires me.


    I would like a recipe for Turdilli or Chambrelle. Can you e-mail me these recipes? My mother has passed away 20 years ago and I want to continue my Italian heritage by making the things my mom used to make.

    Thank you!


    I am learning Italian and reading the book “La festa del ritorno” di Carmine Abate. It is a wonderful story of his life as a child – “ambientato in un paese arberesh della Calabria”. On page 115 they take snow and put it on the mosto cotto the grandmother has made at Epifania.
    It was good to find what it was from your recipe. Many thanks.
    Frances (in southern Australia where it has been very hot for the Christmas period)


    It’s interesting. Because it seems like “pekmez” that you can found in Turkey. After preparing the juice of grape like mosto cotto ,they boil the grape .But after 15 minute they cut off the fire and they put a special kind of soil (pekmez topragı,marin ) to the grape juice to make it clear or to prevent sourness and wait 4 to 5 hours .Then they filtre and continue to boil till it thicken .
    But the second way is to prepare like mosto cotto and named it as “gün balı “(sun honey) Because after boil it a few time , they let it evaporate in the sun at wide and spread containers.


    And even if you probabily don’t understand turkish you can watch the processus second way (gün balı)
    NB: Pekmez is the one of tha main ingredient of the dessert /course of “tahin-pekmez” that ist second ingredient is “tahini “(purée of sesame) .So you can try your mosto cotto with tahini (mix the same amount of two of them in a little bowl) And bon appetit.


    Thanks for sharing the Turkish version of mosto cotto


    It’s a pleasure.Thanks for your very interesting page. For exemple I’ve never heard about “gateau de l’aubergine”.


    Thanks for the useful information. Last weekend my mom found 2 bottles of “mosto cotto” that was made by her Abruzzese father before 1966 (no date on bottles, but was made when my grandfather was still alive). She gave them to me! They still taste fantastic. I can’t wait to try them in some of our old family recipes. Now I see how it was made, I will make some to leave as a legacy for my grandchildren.


    What a special treat to find two bottles of mosto cotto made by your grandfather. It will keep forever if bottled as you just found out. In the old days they used it in place of honey and it keeps for a long time just like honey does.


    I was so glad to find this recipe. As a child, I remember my Grandmother bringing cuccia in vino cotto to my mother, Lucia, for Saint Lucy’s feast day. Both my Grandmother and Mother are gone now but we have a new addition to the family, Lucia Francesca, and I will be reinstating the tradition now that I have your recipe.
    Thank you


    Wow! Great information, please keep writing more


    This is a great post! For those of you who don’t have time to make vino cotto, we produce authentic Vino Cotto (mosto cotto). It is available online and in a few stores.


    Thank you for letting me know that you make and sell Mosto cotto. Nice to see another Calabrese keeping our traditions.


    My parents are Sicilian an we make this too….turns out best with Muscat grapes….we call it vino cotto (vinu cottu in sicilian). My parents boil the mustu(grape juice) with grape vine ash and an apple (which are removed at the end). Vinu Cottu is great! My dad tells me in hard time in sicily they would pour it on snow for dessert. Great website!!


    Rosetta! I also make vino cotto and I put it on the scalilli ,turdilli, and pitt’impigliate in place of honey. They are all delicious. Have a very Merry Xmass


    Hi Rosetta, we’re originally from Muro Lucano, Potenza and have been making Vino Coto almost every year from moscato grapes. We use it for a desert my mom makes called” calzone di ceci ” which is a delecasy made around Christmas time.
    The desert is made with chick peas and chocolate, then drizzled with vino coto all over.
    Very time consuming to prepare but absolutely delicious.
    We also use it on cheeses and meats to add sweetness.
    Cheeres, Tony


    My grandmother used to make the vino cotto from the grapes that grandpa had. Here is an interesting recipe that I cannot find anywhere. After speaking to my remaining aunts all in there late 70′s and 80′s, this is how we think grandma made these. She called them Diamonds only because of the shape of the cookies. She (we think) made a dough from flour and vino cotto (only) and cut out the cookies into shapes of diamonds. She would bake them like a cookie (don’t know how long) After baking she would put them into a stone crock and layer the cookies with the vino cotta and chopped nuts. This would sit for about I am guessing 4 to 6 weeks until the cookies would soak up the syrup. When they are done they would be all sticky and gooey. We would pick them out with a fork everybody fighting for a taste. There were wonderful. Has anyone ever heard of this before, I cannot find anything like it on the internet. Thankfully I do not have to go to the trouble of making the vino cotto as there are some old Italian ladies who make it and sell it at a local Italian Deli in Southern California.


    This comment is to Tony Cerone: would you be willing to share that recipe as it sounds very much like the one my grandmother from abruzzi used to make at christmas. Unfortunately I don’t have the recipe. I would love to make it this christmas.


    Thanks so much for this post! I have been looking for years and no one ever seems to know what mosto cotto is!!
    This is for Camille : Your recipe sounds similar to this one I found recently:
    Mostaccioli al Vino Cotto (Mostaccioli with mosto cotto, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange and lemon zest)
    Cookies with Nuts
    We did not soak ours but my grandmother used to wrap money in foil in this cake cut like diamonds that contained mosto cotto. I am going to try a variation of this to see if it will work. Perhaps you could do a variation of this one.


    How do you crush the grapes? I’ll be partaking in a “foot-stomping” grape crush in Napa Valley this September, but I imagine there are more practical methods for crushing grapes at home.


    Michael, we have a crusher that we use to crush grapes when making wine. If you wanted to do a small amount you could use a food mill, but all you need is the juice so it is OK if you used “foot-stomping” to crush the grapes.


    Thank you for this site, & this recipe! My family is from Pietrapaola, Cosenza. I now live in upstate NY and every first snowfall I remember having scirobetta with mustu cottu. The last time I had it I was a young child, so it’s been a long time. If I can find the right grapes, I am definitely going to try making some for next year!


    Hi Rosetta,
    My grandparents were from Calabria and Sicily. In the fall grandfather made wine in the basement and my grandmother made a thick dark sweet syrup that was served with deep fried dough cut into ribbons.
    After much research on the internet my sister and I suspect it was musto cotto that she made. She also made a thick black jam paste that tasted like the syrup. We think that she might have used the grape skins for this, or just cooked the grapes whole and reduced them, then strained out the syrup, leaving the jam paste behind. Does any of this sound like something made where you are from?


    Tom, they make a thick jam with grapes in Calabria, in fact most people in Calabria call it mostarda d’uva.


    Thank you Rosetta I have been looking for a recipe and can’t wait for our grape harvest so I can make some. Love to keep these old traditional recipe alive.


    Hi Rosetta
    Over the past few weeks I made the Vin Cotto, musto cotto , and mostarda d’uva. I sent some of each to my sister and she said it was just as she remembers, it was like sitting in grandma’s kitchen again.
    Thank you for posting!

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