Italian bottled eggnog known as VOV––sold since its inception in a characteristic cylindrical white glass bottle––is considered an icon in the world of Italian liqueurs.
Italy’s traditional holiday liqueur was invented in 1845 by Gian Battista Pezziol, a pastry chef and confectioner from Padua specialized in the production of torrone, Italy’s Christmas nougat made with egg whites, nuts and honey. Pezziol had the intuition to use the leftover yolks mixed with Marsala wine, alcohol and sugar, to start the production of a boozy zabaglione. Meant as an energy drink that was very popular at the time, the product was initially marketed under the name “Vovi,” which is ‘eggs’ in Veneto dialect. Later, when the product began to cross regional borders, the name was changed to VOV.
Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the popularity of the beverage was such that the recipe was included in cookbooks. During WWII, VOV arrived on the battlefield: by virtue of its recognized energizing properties it was supplied to the Italian troops engaged in combat with the name “VAV2,” acronym for Vino Alimento Vigoroso, i.e. ‘vigorous food wine.’
Between the 1960s and 1970s the beverage reached its peak success, with the onset of product imitations and competitors. In the 1980s and 1990s, while VOV was also being distributed and appreciated abroad, paradoxically it went through a long period of decline in Italy, mitigated only by the constant demand in mountain resorts, chalets and winter sports resorts.
Cocktails to the rescue
In recent years, the beverage is fortunately trending again, mostly thanks to the Bombardino cocktail, of which VOV is the main ingredient. Bombardino is made with heavy cream, heated VOV, brandy and espresso (the recipe varies depending on the area) and is a popular treat in mountain chalets for aprés ski. “Vintage” beverages like VOV are part of a general resurgence of historical food products of the old Italian tradition (think Amaro, offal, cedrata, spuma and elderberry soft drinks, etc.).
The white cylindrical VOV bottle, in use since its commercial beginnings, has over time become an icon of the Italian liquor industry. Initially produced in opaque white ceramic, it later was made in white glass. Currently the product is packaged in a clear glass bottle covered with white plastic, which imitates the traditional white glass bottle. Sadly, in addition to being of lesser value, it presents consumers little ease in recycling its component materials. The label substantially hasn’t changed for decades, with the equally iconic relief yellow “VOV” block lettering on blue background and stylized Basilica of Saint Anthony, patron Saint of Padua. The product’s description on the label is zabajone confortante, or comforting eggnog.
Versatile VOV can be enjoyed as a cordial neat, warm for an invigorating boost, chilled or even frozen as a boozy granita. The taste is very similar to zabaglione, however more liquid and with a higher alcohol content. This characteristic makes it suitable for pairing with many types of desserts, possibly also as a garnish or as a soak for sponge cake layers. It often appears in recipes. It’s an interesting pairing for coffee and a naughty alternative for gelato “affogato.”
Before pouring, as recommended by the label, shake the bottle.
While it’s fun to plonk a bottle of VOV on the table during a heated game of bingo on Christmas Eve, making your own Italian comforting eggnog is priceless.
Ingredients for one 750 ml batch (the amount of liquid contained in a wine bottle)
10 egg yolks
400 g (2 ¾ cups) powdered sugar, sifted
25 ml (2 tbsp) Cognac
25 ml (2 Tbsp) Marsala wine
300 ml (1 ¼ cup) full fat milk
75 ml (5 tbsp) pure grain alcohol*
1 vanilla bean, slit open down the length and seeds collected by scraping
Place the yolks, sugar and vanilla seeds in a large bowl. Whisk to obtain a thick and smooth cream. Gradually add the alcohol, Cognac and Marsala. Switch to an electric hand mixer, and then incorporate the milk.
Transfer the mixture in a saucepan placed in a double boiler. Stir and let the cream thicken (for at least 10 minutes) until the sugar is fully melted. Note: The water in the double boiler should only quiver and not boil, this would otherwise cook the eggs and ruin the outcome.
Let the liqueur cream cool down completely before bottling. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Although the eggs have been pasteurized in the double boiler and the alcohol present helps their conservation, unlike commercial products, your homemade VOV does not contain any preservatives.
Before pouring, remember to shake the bottle well.
*Pure grain alcohol (ethanol) is an organic chemical compound that’s commonly sold in Italy for culinary use. It is readily available and legal for sale in most countries, but in some countries this is not common. If you’re uncomfortable using it, or can’t find it, you can replace this with your vodka of choice.