In sad news for dessert-lovers everywhere, Ado Campeol, widely regarded as “the father of tiramisu”, has passed away at the age of 93.
The ’70s-born treat – of coffee-soaked sponge fingers laden with a rich mascarpone cream – originally appeared on the menu at his family-run restaurant, Le Beccherie, in the town of Treviso in Italy’s north-east, and today it’s one of the county’s most famous exports.
Like many celebrated dishes, tiramisu’s origin story – like its ingredients – remains contentious, but Campeol and his wife Alba are credited with legitimising the dessert by being the first to put it on their menu. In 2010, a delegation from the Italian Academy of Cuisine certified the restaurant’s version of the recipe, naming pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto as its creator (although it’s widely said that he co-created the dish with Alba Campeol).
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The Accademia del Tiramisu, an independent organisation devoted exclusively to the pudding and its history, says the combination of mascarpone, sugar, coffee and biscuits was long used in Italy’s Veneto region as a tonic – sometimes served as a recharger to depleted clients post coitus by bordello madams, or to nursing mothers to keep their milk supply and energy up. Its name is derived from the phrase “tireme su” – literally “lift me up” in Treviso dialect.
According to the Campeols’ son, Carlo, who now runs the restaurant, Alba was familiar with the local pick-me-up. As a new mother – not long before the dish was added to Le Beccherie’s menu in 1972 – she was snacking on a mix of tiramisu’s key ingredients (mascarpone, sugar, biscuits and coffee) prepared by her mother-in-law every morning for breakfast.
By the mid ’80s, the dessert had crossed the Atlantic and was causing a stir in New York, with controversies erupting around just how to make it and what exactly it even was. In 1985 the New York Times ran a story attempting to unpack the mysteries of “a deceptively airy but shamefully rich creation in the mousse-pudding family that has at least 200 variations”. It said the dish was hardly known in the city just a few years earlier, with one NYC chef claiming it was the first Italian dessert to compete with French cuisine for international attention.
It’s a debate that continues to rage. In 2013 Luca Zaia, longstanding governor of the dish’s home region of Veneto, led a campaign to protect the recipe from egregious mutations – in particular, the unacceptable addition of strawberries and cream.
Less concerned with the sanctity of the dish, the Tiramisu World Cup – which has been running since 2017, when Linguanotto led the judges panel – is surely the world’s largest amateur tiramisu contest. While the experimental category allows for the inclusion of almost anything, it still adheres to the recipe’s essence and forbids the omission of any of the core ingredients: mascarpone, coffee, cocoa and eggs. Yolks are also compulsory, and competitors are judged against daunting evaluation criteria such as “harmony of taste and perception of lightness”.
To see how popular tiramisu is in Australia, all you need to do is look at our Google search stats. We look it up far more often than most other Italian desserts, and over the past 15 years it has consistently outranked gelato, panna cotta, cannoli and affogato in our sweets-related inquiries, reliably reaching a peak in the lead up to Christmas each year.
Love a tiramisu? Find six recipes here.