by Jerry Rothstein
Since they arrived in St. Paul in the 1800s and settled on the Levee, started their renowned food business with a tiny food market called Cossetta’s, which drew customers from far and wide who appreciated their quality foods and genuine hospitality, the Cossettas believed that “Good food is the quality of life” and this remains Cossetta’s motto: “Qualita di Vita. Cibo Buono.”
Four years of passion, perseverance
In 2018, Dave Cossetta established a goal for the Cossetta Pastry team:
“To not just make panettone, our goal is to master the art of panettone.” The team involved in bakery and pastry production spent the time needed to plan, learn, gather resources and produce Cossetta panettone, the traditional Italian sweet-dough Christmas cake. Its tradition of more than 500 years originated in passion, and continues today with a passion for quality that this team holds close.
The development process involved the entire team, led by Jaime Martinez, Executive Pastry Chef of Bakery and Pastry, now approaching 25 years at Cossetta’s. Marco Failla, a Pastry chef from Catagna, Sicily, was brought here for three months as a consultant to assist with the panettone project. He had assisted the world-renowned Iginio Massari at his school, Cast Alimenti in Brescia, when discovered by the Cossetta team, who were there to learn as much as they could about panettone.
The process involved developing techniques, sourcing the best ingredients and a lot of experimentation. Making a yeasted sweet cake involves developing the “mother” dough which they brought over from the old country. It must have the right acidity and moisture content. The first mix develops the structure of the gluten, proofs the yeast, develops flavor. Second and third feedings, restings, risings, occur before the precisely measured dough can go into baking molds. An hour in the oven followed by three to six hours cooling. The entire process takes almost 60 hours with continual inspection. This is not for the faint of heart.
On the world stage
It has taken the Cossetta team nearly 10 years of passion and perseverance to create the panettone they hoped for, and this year they were invited to compete at the North American trials with hopes for an invitation to the third Coppa del Monde del panettone — the World Cup of Panettone — held in Milano this November.
In New York the national selection trials were held at the Institute of Culinary Education, and Team Cossetta was the winner. They would represent the U.S. in Milano, along with runner-up Gary Rulli from California.
The long preparation process for the competition meant starting another set of panettoni in the fall, timed to be ready for the early November Coppa del Mondo.
Team Cossetta brought six panettones each from three different batches on the journey from St. Paul to Milano. On the morning of day one, pastry chefs Jaime Martinez and Andrea Hinds reviewed the panettones from the three batches and evaluated each batch for height, texture, smell, color, crumb profile, structure and taste to determine which best represented their craft. The team unanimously chose batch number two for competition.
Dave Cossetta described the presentation to the judges: “Jaime Martinez took the stage and presented his craft. For more than 10 years, Jaime studied with a multitude of Maestros, worked with many co-workers, experienced many, many failures and experimented with different techniques and ingredients. He has shown an endless indomitable spirit on this quest for the best panettone at Cossetta. This is science at its very finest, but with no formula that fits all.. Adjust, adjust, adjust is a must. In 2022, Jaime worked endlessly at all hours and days and has proven to exhibit the true definition of a professional. Champions exist for one primary reason. They practice, practice, practice. It is that simple. Jaime’s presentation was exactly what he is. Sincere. Jaime presented his panettone to the audience, they handed out samples for tasting, and he told his story to the audience from his heart, same as he did in the production of his panettone.
After presenting to the judges, Team Cossetta proceeded to make their presentation to the audience, consisting of personal and development history, a video (bit.ly/3U241Da) showing them at work in their laboratorio (kitchen), a chance for the audience to taste the same panettone the judges were testing in their room and a question-and-answer session.
In the traditional panettone division (chocolate was the other) 24 teams from Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the U.S. had won the right to compete.
The elaborate event, which included workshops for practitioners, public presentations and the judging itself, spanned three days. Panels of judges, many of whom were themselves master pastry chefs, conducted blind testing of all the samples, while the public was also offered samples with no other responsibilities than to enjoy.
Dave Cossetta, with his team, clarified the historic and practical context of this world cup competition: “It has become evident to me to make this thing called panettone is incredibly complicated, not only because of the difference in technique for the competitors from different countries, but the ability of competitors to source the ingredients. Panettone was born in Italy over 500 years ago, so the expectations for taste, look and style have been set for a long time. The challenge for many competitors is to make something with such strict guidelines and be able to source ingredients. It can be difficult in many countries to find ingredients of the same standards of the Italians who have the ingredients available.”
“Your panettone is molto bene.”
This unsolicited compliment from an audience member confirmed to the Cossetta Team that it was where it belonged. During the tense moments while the judges completed their work and prepared to announce the winners, Dave Cossetta again offered insight into the process: “As we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with one of the competitors from Napoli, Italy. He was openly sharing his ingredients of choice and techniques used to make his panettone.
As the presentations by the final competitors came to an end, there was only one thing left to attend, the presentation of winners. All of the audience and competition’s presenters proceeded to the auditorium for the much-anticipated announcement.
As Switzerland’s Maestro Giuseppe Piffaretti read the results of the winners, 3rd place, 2nd place and grand champion, the audience went wild. The new grand champion was the same pastry chef we were talking to earlier from Napoli who shared all his techniques with us. His passion talking to us and accepting his award was very inspirational to all at the presentation.
The grand champion and runner-up were Italian, and the third-place Maestro was Swiss. But all the competitors received a medal for being there, for having reached this pinnacle of the panettone world. As Jaime Martinez says in the Coppa del Mondo Cossetta video, “We all work together. We may not be able to master panettone, but this will never stop us from trying.”
This year’s Cossetta panettone — traditional, chocolate and pistachio — will be available early in December.
“Qualita di Vita. Cibo Buono.”