Biscotti – Making People Happy Around the World

Cookies are one of the world’s most favorite treats. They appeal to people of all ages not only because they are mouth-wateringly delicious but also because they are familiar and comforting and the smell and taste can evoke fond memories. Although a dry, hard and brittle cookie might not sound appealing, this description is characteristic of authentic Biscotti and who doesn’t like Biscotti? This uniquely shaped cookie will satisfy even the sweetest tooth and it can be eaten at any time of the day for any occasion.

While many countries have adopted this ancient cookie and created their own version, according to food historians, Biscotti were invented in the Tuscany region of Italy around the 13th century in a city called Prato, and it soon became a common provision aboard the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and many sailors and fishermen. Due to its cooking method, Biscotti could last months at sea without growing stale or moldy. In Italy, while the word “biscotti” refers to almost any type of biscuit or cookie, it literally translates to “twice cooked”. The bis in Biscotti, plural of Biscotto, means twice and cotto means cooked. Baking the dough twice will eliminate excess moisture and give the cookie its signature crunchy hard texture; making it ideal for dunking in wine, or any hot beverage such as coffee or cocoa and a perfect partner to a variety of desserts.

Hundreds of years ago immigrants brought the recipe for this international treat to America but it was limited to Italian and specialty bakeries, or a homemade cookie served at holidays and special occasions. Today, this cookie is all the rage due in large part to the recent explosion of trendy coffee pubs and the popularity of Italian restaurants. The acceptance of this indulgent cookie has been astonishing. Biscotti are now one of the most recognized cookies on the planet. This delicious and often decadent delight has carved out a unique niche in today’s foodservice industry. From a simple snack to a gourmet dolci, Biscotti can be found just about anywhere from grocery stores to bakeries, and on dessert menus in fine dining restaurants.

I asked John Vallone Jr., Marketing Director for Viscotti, his family run Biscotti business about the recent surge of Biscotti. “Traditionally biscotti were almond or anise flavored. Today Biscotti is basically a blank canvas and can be flavored with a variety of creative ingredients and exotic spices to produce different flavor combinations. The recipes are endless and limited only by one’s imagination. Everyone likes to say Biscotti, but even better, everyone likes to eat Biscotti”.

John Vallone Sr. agrees. “Being a first generation American, son of a Calabrese father and Sicilian mother, Italian pastries were a standard in the Vallone household. As in the vast majority of Italian homes, Biscotti were the standard pastries for having a “tasse di caffe” with visiting compares and comares. These biscotti, I guess, through some divine guidance, were predominantly Anisette flavored and classically baked to be dunked in hearty Italian coffee. After joining the U.S. Air Force in 1953, my ration of mom’s great biscotti was limited to holiday care packages. As fast as the packages were opened, that’s how fast the biscotti disappeared as my barrack buddies experienced the exquisite flavors of these cookies.

When I retired from the Air Force, I decided to continue the Italian biscotti tradition, at least for the holidays but I wanted biscotti that were distinctive when compared to the standard hard Anisette Biscotti. After a few years of experimenting and eating all my mistakes, I finally developed the flavors and texture that has become the Viscotti trademark. Since these biscotti were far from the standard, I also decided to give them the unique name of “Viscotti”; replacing the B with the V from Vallone setting them apart and quelling any contention that, “These aren’t biscotti; they’re not hard”.

At first I baked only for family and friends. After rave reviews, I baked them for church bazaars and fundraisers, and John Jr. requested 200 to donate to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds for one of their special occasions at Nellis. From the response expressed by these airmen, we provided them with quasi-regular shipments in thanks and gratitude for their service as the Ambassadors in Blue of the finest Air Force in the world. With the cooperation of the Thunderbirds, we jointly identified U.S. Military units in Iraq to receive Viscotti for the holidays. In the past 3 years, we have sent over 1500 Viscotti to our troops and the feedback has been heart rendering and that alone has given us the incentive to continue this tradition as long as our brave men and women place themselves in harms way to protect our great nation and to defend the downtrodden of the world.

But we had no real intention of going into the biscotti business; our satisfaction pay came from the gratitude we received from the recipients. But in August of 2006, I struck up a conversation with a group of men while attending the Atlantic City Air Show. We exchanged war stories, traded business cards and talked about our current enterprises. I mentioned that I made the world’s second best biscotti and when asked why “second best,” I had to explain that if I said I made the world’s best of any type of food to any Italian man, the normal rebuttal would be that “nobody makes *that* better than my poor sainted mother.”

So to save arguments, I magnanimously settle as the world’s second best. One of the men, an Italian American, introduced himself as Olgo Russo, co-owner of A Russo & Sons Inc., a fruit and vegetable vendor in the Boston suburbs. He asked for a business card and I gave him one of my novelty GioV business cards figuring it would be the last time I ever heard from him. Surprisingly, one week later I received an email requesting samples. I sent one dozen. Soon after, he placed an order for 500, and 3 more subsequent orders of 500. He provided samples to a 5-star restaurant in Boston and the Chef de Cuisine’s response: “Amazing!”

“Since that time I have recently provided unsolicited marketing samples to quality restaurants in upstate New York and Las Vegas and plan to expand to other metropolitan areas of the US in the near future. Whether or not the business becomes successful, I will still continue to bake the Viscotti for family and friends and charities, and most definitely for our dedicated brave men and women in the United States armed forces”.