The cool days of autumn have inspired me to fill my pantry to the brim in anticipation of the coming holiday and winter season. My most recent endeavor is an old Italian specialty that is easy to make and is a great addition to the daily table. It’s also the basis for some special treats to share with friends and family as we gather by the fireside to while away the dark days of winter.
Mosto Cotto, or cooked must, is an age-old condiment that, in its simplest form, is the fresh-pressed juice, or must, of the grapes obtained during the wine-making process. The must has been allowed to simmer at the back of the stove as it reduces to one third its original volume. Although thick, syrupy, and sweet, much like a grape preserve, the real magic begins when you fill swing-top bottles and store them away in a dark, cool cellar or at the back of a pantry for weeks, months, or even years. During this aging period, the thickened juice builds character and complexity that can be filled with—depending on the variety of grapes you’re working with—the flavors of figs, currants, cherries, raisins, or spice. This is very similar to balsamic vinegar, as the cooked must is the basis of this well-known condiment as well.
You can use this treasure of the pantry as a traditional sweetener when combined with honey or drizzled over cheese and meats as part of a rustic charcuterie display. Also, try topping off a dessert, or use it as the basis for a flavor-enhancing sauce for both meat or fish dishes.
I would anticipate the most challenging part of making the Mosto Cotto will be sourcing the juice or must. You could press your own grapes with a home wine press or a simple potato masher. In addition to this process, a simple request of a local winemaker will most likely result in one’s ability to obtain the juice as well. Remember, this is the fresh unfermented juice of the grape and will often include the stems and seeds that can be strain from the juice either before processing or after cooking.
Next, place the juice on the stove to simmer away for a few hours until it reduces by at least one-half to two-thirds and has become syrupy and has a cooked aroma. Place the reduced must into sterilized glass jars. (I prefer the swing-top variety.) Store in a dark, cool location for at least a few weeks to a month. Remember, as in many things, patience is a virtue, and the longer you allow the Mosto Cotto to age, the more robust and complex this elixir becomes.
A well-stocked pantry is an essential element of a simple life well lived and the basis for kitchen success. Add this simple, historic, and made-it-yourself condiment to your pantry to share with friends and family or when you savor a few private minutes away from the worries of the world.