It’s no secret that traditional Italian cookies are some of the most famous cookies in the world. If you like a sweet treat with your coffee and tea (or like desserts, in general), then chances of never hearing or tasting cantuccini biscotti, Amaretti cookies, or savoiardi (even if just as an ingredient in a tiramisu cake), are next to none.
But such fame also makes it next to impossible for a specific brand to become associated with any one of them. Most people aren’t looking for cantuccini or Amaretti from a particular brand; when shopping, they’re just looking for the cookies that look good.
It makes it much harder to establish yourself as a premium cookie manufacturer on the market, primarily if you’ve already accrued brand recognition - for a completely different product.
This uphill battle is something Chiostro di Saronno has been fighting (and, arguably, slowly winning) for some time now.
First Things First: What is Chiostro di Saronno?
Chiostro di Saronno is a food and drink company based in, fittingly, Saronno, a comune of Lombardy, Italy, in the province of Varese. “Chiostro di Saronno” means "Cloister of Saronno" in Italian. It’s an old Franciscan cloister in the center of Saronno, where the company’s seat is currently located.
The story of Chiostro di Saronno, or, rather, Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli as it is today, started in 1927. Though, arguably, the roots have been there for a lot longer. The Lazzaroni family owed two companies before deciding to combine the two into one and focus solely on two products: Amaretto Lazzaroni 1851 (did you know that the famous almond liqueur was born in Saronno? Well, now you do) and biscuits.
Yes, ironically, the food manufacturing history of Chiostro di Saronno started with the cookies.
Over the next fifty years, the company steadily expanded, attracting the attention of both cookie connoisseurs and potential investors. In 1984, the biscuit branch of the company was sold to an American company (though after some time, it returned under family ownership). In the early 90s, Paolo Lazzaroni (the namesake of his liqueur-making grandfather who started the entire Lazzaroni food-making business) built an industrial plant in Saronno and, with the expanded manufacturing capabilities, developed the production and product line-up, as well.
And this is where the tables turned, if only a bit.
Because the cookies slowly but surely started to take a backseat to cakes. What Chiostro di Saronno is primarily known for nowadays (especially outside Italy, where it has luckily had almost a hundred years to build a solid customer base) are the cakes. Chiostro di Saronni is one of the most well-known gourmet-grade Christmas panettone and Easter Colomba cake industrial producers. And the festive cakes, with their elaborate, elegant packaging ranging from brightly colored boxes hand-wrapped with thick premium paper to luxury tins, from ones decorated with lively festive imagery to more slick, elegant ones.
Nowadays, the production process at Lazzaroni & Figli is divided into three branches (Amaretto, biscuits, festive cakes) under two different brands. Lazzaroni brand concentrates on the Amaretto, keeping the alcohol separate from the Chiostro di Saronno brand, which is in charge of the bakery.
A Cookie Connoseiur? Start with These Chiostro di Saronno Traditional Italian Cookies
Cookies might not be what Chiostro di Saronno is most commonly associated with, but it is evident the company not only cares about offering premium products but takes pride in keeping traditions alive.
A large portion of Chiostro di Saronno cookie assortment is a regional specialty that not many people have heard of outside Italy. However, Chiostro di Saronno’s appealing packaging, with its brightly colored boxes and individually wrapped cookies, makes it easier for people to try the new flavors.
Chiostro di Saronno also offers various gift tin box options decorated similarly to regular boxes. But in this case, the bright colors are applied to sturdy metal boxes with embossed details and uniquely shaped tins (like Vintage Trucks, Red Limo, and even Door).
It is pretty clear that Chiostro di Saronno takes particular pride in its Amaretti cookies. Among the wide range of Chiostro di Saronno cookie assortment, Amaretti is the one that gets a separate category tab on the main page. The rest are placed together in the “cookie” category.
Frankly speaking, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Saronno is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Amaretti cookies. It’s a regional specialty Saronno natives take particular pride in, and it must be a point of pride for Chiostro di Saronno Amaretti cookies to be considered among the best on the market. It is not, however, the only Amaretti cookie variety around, and neither is it the only one the company manufactures. This is approximately what the line-up for the Amaretti category looks like:
- Classic Crunchy Amaretti Cookies | Amaretti di Saronno
Amaretti di Saronno is considered to be the most traditional variety of Amaretti cookies. Usually, if the cookie package is labeled simply as “Amaretti,” you can assume it’s the di Saronno variety. Di Saronno Amaretti cookies are dry and crispy (Amaretti Secchi), with a robust nutty aroma and a complex flavor with a hint of bitterness. While some modern recipes use almonds as the main ingredient, Chiostro di Saronno follows the traditional formula and makes cookies with apricot kernels.
- Soft Amaretti Cookies
Soft Amaretti cookies are not as well-known as the crunchy ones, and many tend not to consider them as an Amaretti variety at all (primarily due to the strong association of the name with the di Saronno cookie). Interestingly, most regional Amaretti cookie varieties are actually soft and chewy (Amaretti Morbidi), including the ones from the Sassello, Emilia-Romagna, and Molise. While Saronno doesn’t have much of a tradition for soft Amaretti, Chiostro di Saronno puts its own spin on the cookie, combining the traditions of other regions with the distinct Saronno flair. The main ingredient in soft Amaretti is once again apricot kernels, but a small amount of almond is also utilized. The cookies are intensely nutty, though somewhat less bitter than the crispy Amaretti.
- Flavoured Amaretti Cookies
Chiostro di Saronno has a separate category for flavored Amaretti cookies. Interestingly, they prefer experimenting with adding flavoring ingredients to soft Amaretti cookies while keeping the crispy di Saronno cookies strictly traditional. The soft Amaretti cookies come in quite a few exciting flavors, including chocolate, lemon, pistachios, and even a lemon-pistachio combo.
Cantuccini (Biscotti) Cookies
As traditional Italian cookies go, cantuccini are likely the only ones that can compete with Amaretti in popularity and fame (and might even be able to defeat them, especially outside Italy). They have even become synonymous with biscotti, which simply means “biscuits” in Italian.
Cantuccini is dry and crunchy cookies liberally studded with almonds (and, sometimes, pine nuts). Chiostro di Saronno is once again very deliberate in its attempt to preserve the traditional view of cantuccini: instead of experimenting with flavors, the company mostly opts to stick to the classic recipe. However, they do offer a version of the cookie with chocolate chips.
- Cantuccini Toscani IGP
Cantuccini is a Tuscan specialty, so it’s not much of a surprise that there’s an old Tuscan variety that’s considered a non-tangible legacy and is accordingly protected via IGP status (they’re sometimes even called biscotti di Prato). Widely thought of as the seminal Cantuccini cookie, you’ll also find them in the Chiostro di Saronno assortment.
Ladyfinger Cookies | Savoiardi
Ladyfingers are a fascinating case as traditional Italian cookies go: the place it was created at doesn’t exist anymore. Well, no, it exists on the land, of course, but the Duchy of Savoy, where a 15th-century Royal Chef created the cookie specifically for a visit from the King of France, stopped existing in the 19th century. Nowadays, it’s a French territory.
So, if the French were to argue that Savoiardi is a French cookie, they might actually have a leg to stand. Not that the international community agrees.
Ladyfingers are sweet sponge biscuits. Its shape is long and thin, with a flat bottom and a slightly domed top. Their dry, crunchy, and airy texture lends itself well to absorbing liquid. So, while they can be enjoyed by themselves along with a cup of coffee, they’re most commonly used as an ingredient in various desserts like trifles, charlottes, and, most famously, tiramisu.
Brutti e Buoni
Likely the least famous and most underrated of the entire Chiostro di Saronno line-up, Brutti e Buoni is a traditional specialty from Gavirate, a small commune northwest of Milan.
Brutti e Buoni (or, as they’re more often known, Brutti Ma Buoni) are chewy and crunchy cookies made with either hazelnuts or almonds, an ample amount of butter, and sugar, and liberally flavored with vanilla and, sometimes, cinnamon.
The name Brutti Ma Buoni literally translates as “Ugly but Good.” The name is arguably undeserved, as Bruttiboni (as they’re sometimes referred to for simplicity’s sake) are pretty visually appealing. They’re traditionally small and circular, with pale irregular tops. The top of the cookie is sometimes cracked; in other cases, it’s studded with small bulges. It’s this irregularity that has likely earned it the name, though if anything, we can argue this visual imperfection gives it a more appealing, “homemade” feel.
Chiostro di Saronno Brutti e Buoni is made with both almonds and hazelnuts. The aroma isn’t very robust, but it is distinct and very nutty. The flavor is moderately sweet, with noticeable bitter notes characteristic of Italian almond cookies.
Baci di Dama
Baci di Dama (it. for “lady’s kisses) is a traditional Italian sandwich cookie. It consists of two thick, round cookies joined together with a thick layer of chocolate spread. Italians, being renowned romantics, thought that the visuals were similar to two mouths joined in a kiss, so the name quickly stuck.
Baci di Dama is another addition to Chiostro di Saronno’s regional selection line-up. The cookie was created in the 19th century, which makes it the youngest among the entries on this list.
The cookies for Baci di Dama are made with finely ground (Type 00) premium wheat flour, sugar, and a generous amount of hazelnuts, which results in a dome-like shape and soft, crumbly texture with a bit of chewiness to it. The cookies are connected with a thick layer of smooth chocolate paste. This cookie is on the sweeter side, without the underlying bitter notes characteristic of other Chiostro di Saronno cookies we previously discussed.
Baci di Dama is a good starting point for those who wish to learn more about traditional Italian cookies but want to start with something simpler, without more complex, bitter notes in the flavor.
Other lesser-known traditional regional specialties in the Chiostro di Saronno line-up are Canestrelli (it. for “little baskets”). Their history goes back all the way back to the middle ages, with Piedmont and Liguria claiming to be the cookies’ birthplace.
Canestrelli might not be among the most well-known ones when it comes to Italian cookies, but they’re among the easiest to recognize via the form. Canestrelli is flower-shaped, with a hole in the middle. Depending on the recipe proportions, they can be categorized as butter cookies or shortbread cookies (though the latter is more common).
Traditionally, Canestrelli used to be a treat for a special occasion and were served at significant celebrations, like weddings and religious feasts.
Chiostro di Saronno Canestrelli cookies are soft and slightly crumbly, with a classic buttery shortbread flavor. They’re dusted with sugar powder, as Canestrelli traditionally ought to be.
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Image sources: all Chiostro di Saronno images taken from the official website and Facebook page.