Italy loses a gastronomic icon

The Italian restaurant that claims to have created the famous dessert tiramisu is closing down because of the country's economy, says its owner.

Marco Secchi/Getty Images
Carlo Campeol, the present owner of restaurant Alle Beccherie and son of Alba, poses in front of the restaurant with a freshly made tiramisu in Treviso, Italy. Treviso claims that tiramisu was invented in the 1960s by Alba Campeol, the owner of the restaurant called Alle Beccherie, who supposedly wanted to create a dessert that would give her an energy boost after the birth of her son.

The Italian restaurant that claims to have given the world tiramisu – the beguiling concoction of mascarpone cheese, cocoa, and coffee-soaked ladyfingers – is being forced to close down, blaming Italy’s ongoing economic crisis for its demise.

It was in the 1960s that Ada Campeol, the then-owner of Le Beccherie restaurant, was nursing her first child and, looking for an energy-rich dessert to keep her going, came up with the idea of tiramisu. Meaning “pick me up” in Italian, it offered a jolt of caffeine and sugar to the overworked young mother. Roberto Linguanotto, who was working as a chef in the trattoria, also had a hand in the creation.

More than four decades on, that same child, Carlo, announced recently that the restaurant in Treviso, in northern Italy, will close its doors for the last time on March 30.

He blamed the closure on “a collapse” in the number of customers, as Italy endures its worst recession since World War II, with unemployment among young people soaring to over 40 percent and people leaving the country in droves.

Cash-strapped Italians have been opting to eat more cheaply in bars, or grabbing a snack on the run rather than sitting down to a fine meal served at tables with white tablecloths, he said. Or, worse, they have been buying prepared meals from supermarkets and eating at home.

“It’s very sad, because this place was established by my grandfather, but nothing is forever,” Mr. Campeol (pictured) told the Monitor. “My priority now is to honor my commitments to my employees and pay their last wages. That way I can look myself in the mirror each morning.”

The news was greeted with dismay in Treviso and the surrounding Veneto region, which has a proud culinary tradition. “This is not just the end of a piece of Treviso’s history, but also the closing of a page in the gastronomic culture of the world,” said Luca Zaia, president of the region. “Le Beccherie is where tiramisu was born.”

Only last year Mr. Zaia, who served as a minister for agriculture under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, led a campaign to have Treviso recognized by the European Union as the true home of tiramisu, in the same way that Naples has been recognized as the crucible of pizza.

Although most food experts recognize the Campeol family’s claim to having invented tiramisu, there are competing claims from other parts of Italy. Perhaps the most colorful story holds that the creamy dessert was created as an energy-giving treat for prostitutes working in an Italian brothel in the 1950s.

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