The husband and wife whose restaurant gave the world tiramisu
Believe it or not – no matter what menus you remember, especially in New York and San Francisco, especially in the 1980s and 1990s – there was indeed a time in this big green world when tiramisu didn’t didn’t exist. In that unimaginable beforetime, people surely ate ladyfingers — those long, spongy, slightly unsatisfying cookies — and, surely, they lapped up mascarpone. But no one had thought of dipping ladyfingers in espresso; spread them in a baking dish; drizzle them with a mixture of mascarpone, egg yolks, cream and sugar; sprinkle the dish with cocoa powder; cool and serve. Credit for propelling this recipe into the world often goes to Ado Campeol (1927-2021), a restaurateur from Treviso, Italy, whose establishment, Le Beccherie, launched the dish in the early 1970s and changed the course of dessert history.
But who really invented it? There are a number of origin stories, but Ado’s wife Alba di Pillo-Campeol, who died last fall less than two weeks after her husband, is often credited with raising the dish, with Roberto Linguanotto, pastry chef at Le Beccherie. However, the reports differ. According to one account, Linguanotto accidentally dropped mascarpone into a bowl of sugar and eggs and later, with di Pillo-Campeol, added espresso-soaked ladyfingers for some extra (many later versions have added rum, for a little lower) . Another twist on this origin story suggests it wasn’t an accident. Around the time of his son’s birth, di Pillo-Campeol would often indulge in a dish of egg custard sweetened with a dash of espresso for a boost. In this story, di Pillo-Campeol, alongside Linguanotto, ultimately turned the snack into a tiramisu.
Whatever the inspiration, the dish was tweaked a bit before hitting the market and, once perfected, became an instant hit. Within a few years, tiramisu (meaning ‘pick-up’) landed on menus all over Italy. Then, in 1981, its virtues were extolled by the gastronomic writer Giuseppe Maffioli. It eventually made the transatlantic leap, becoming as entrenched on high-end American menus as veal tonnato and pesto. Over time, there have been countless tiramisu line extensions, including cheesecake, ice cream, cake pops, brownies, and even the quintessential Italian-French collaboration: the tiramisu macaron. As with any overripe trend, abominations followed (tiramisu donuts, tiramisu pancakes, tiramisu flavored cocktails, etc.). Linguanotto once told a reporter that he had seen the cream cheese and pineapple dish. (“As long as it lifts you, that’s fine with me,” he said.) For a brief moment, KFC had tiramisu on its menu. In 2013, an Italian astronaut requested that it be on the menu of the International Space Station, and a space-appropriate version was created for him.
The Campeols and Linguanottos have never taken any steps to claim their right to tiramisu. (Copyrighting or patenting recipes is notoriously difficult to do.) Campeols and Linguanotto’s tiramisu recipe was certified in 2010 by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, an organization founded in Milan, in 1953, to support Italian cuisine and “save” the official releases. of recipes. Then, in 2013, Luca Zaia, the governor of Veneto (the region that includes Treviso), began pushing for tiramisu to gain European Union certification, which would codify the Campeols recipe and hopefully limit the, use of the name “tiramisu” to products. that follow their instructions and ingredients exactly. Zaia, a member of the right-wing Northern League party, argued that there were too many bastard versions of tiramisu, “which don’t do justice to the dedication and creativity of where it was born”. The EU has already certified a range of regional food products, including Roquefort cheese, champagne and Neapolitan-style margherita pizza. (As an example of EU rules, any pizza calling itself “Pizza Napoletana” must be made with specific types of mozzarella and tomatoes, and the dough must rise in phases for about eight hours in total.) Zaia, who also served as agriculture minister and has strong feelings about the purity of the Italian character, seems to consider himself an authority on food; in 2020, he said the Chinese ate live mice. (He later explained that he meant no offense, adding, “My words came out wrong.”) No word yet on his campaign to protect tiramisu.
Ado Campeol grew up in the restaurant business. His parents took over Le Beccherie, a traditional kitchen, in Piazza Ancillotto, in the heart of the city, in 1939. After years of troubleshooting, he became the chef of the house when his father died in 1947. His style is dapper …he often wore a suit jacket, tie, and slacks—and he liked to walk around the restaurant to greet customers. Occasionally he would pick up a knife and cut meat at the table. He sang in a choir and was known to enjoy a game of rugby, but mostly he and Alba, who married in 1954, spent their time in restaurants. (Their relationship actually started in a restaurant: Ado met Alba while working at a cafe he frequented.) When Ado retired, their son Carlo took over. In 2014, after seventy-five years of existence, the Campeols sold Le Beccherie to a new owner, Paolo Lai, who still operates it. Tiramisu remains on the menu, prepared according to the original recipe.