Each Italian region has its typical Christmas treats. Napoli (Naples) has in fact several, some of which actually originated in nearby towns. Benevento, for example, is about 100 kilometers away and the home of the original mostaccioli, or ‘mustacciuoli’ if you prefer their historical name.

Mostaccioli are spiced cookies glazed with chocolate. They were first mentioned in a Sixteenth century menu for pope Pius V, but they probably derive from a traditional country recipe from the Thirteenth century. The name derives from mosto, the Italian word for grape must. It was used as a special sweetener in addition to honey – and gradually disappeared from the recipe with time, so much that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single mostacciolo (this is the singular form of the name) containing must today.

The other ingredients are cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, lemon zest, nuts and basic cookie dough. Mostaccioli omitting the spices altogether are relatively common, but purists say they really have no reason to exist in the first place – just as much as the “new” smaller (6 centimeters) cookies. Traditional mostaccioli are 10 to 12 centimeters wide soft lozenges, and can be easily spotted by their fragrance. Another trick to find the real thing is to look for opaqueness: brushing the glaze with apricot jam to make the mostaccioli shiny is a relatively recent innovation, seen as pure folly by cookie conoisseurs.