Probably the most popular Italian dessert today, it's the caffeine and sugar in tiramisù that promises to 'pick you up.' It's made of Savoiardi dipped in coffee (and usually rum or Marsala), layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone cheese, and flavored with liquor (rum, brandy or Marsala) and cocoa.
As famous as it is, tiramisù of relatively recent and slightly controversial origin. In 1981 Giovanni Capnist wrote about it in Vin Veneto:
Born recently, less than two decades ago, in the city of Treviso is a dessert called Tiramesu [sic] which was made for the first time in the restaurant Alle Beccherie, by a pastry chef called Loly Linguanotto, the dessert and its name, tiramesu, which signifies its nutritious and restorative properties, became immediately popular and was copied with fidelity and variations not only in the restaurants of Treviso and the region but throughout Veneto and Italy.
Although others claim (as in a Washington Post article) that it was invented by Carminantonio Iannaccone on 24 December, 1969 in Treviso, because unlike the Beccherie recipe, his had the essential Marsala.
But there is another older tale in Treviso: tiramisù was the pick me up served in the city's numerous brothels. Every morning local farmers would deliver the fresh eggs, that the prostitutes whipped up with sugar to serve to their clients for free after a heavy session to restore their flagging energy and have another go, which meant more money for the brothel.
In 1958, the government closed down the brothels, and tiramisù was in danger of being forgotten, until Alle Beccerie revived it.
In August 2018, when the Veneto region announced its intention of officially registering the name with the EU, the headlines in Italy were all about Ministry for Agriculture’s refusal—and the shocking declaration that tiramisù was actually a ‘traditional product’ not of the Veneto, but of Friuli.
The Governor of the Veneto appealed, but the Friuli side produced two cases that considerably predated Alle Beccherie’s claims. In early 1950s, chef Norma Pielli in Tolmezzo’s Albergo Roma reworked the classic Dolce Torino dell'Artusi (made with layers of ladyfingers and buttered whipped cream) into a new dessert by moistening the ladyfingers with coffee and replacing the heavy butter with mascarpone (a menu of 1952 calls it trancia al mascarpone). But patrons nicknamed it tiramisù for its revitalizing virtues, a name Norma started to use for her dessert of mascarpone, coffee, biscuits, eggs, sugar and cocoa by 1959.
An even earlier tiramisù, however, was noted in the region, in a once famous restaurant called Al Vetturino in San Canzian d'Isonzo near Gorizia. Mario Cosolo, the son of the owner, was a chef on the royal yacht Savoia when he invented a new dessert: sponge cake soaked in Marsala topped by layers of chocolate mousse and creamy eggnog served in a glass. It was introduced in the restaurant as the Coppa Vetturino in the late 1940s, but was soon renamed tiramisù by appreciative clients; a photo taken in Al Vetturino in 1950 of boxer Tiberio Mitri with Fulvia Franco (Miss Italy 1948) has a poster in the background advertising the virtues of --tiramisù.
So the name seems to have originated in San Canzian d'Isonzo in the 1940s, and the proper recipe with the mascarpone in Tolmezzo in the 1950s, but Treviso gets the credit for its excellent PR.
Images by: Raffaele Diomede, Creative Commons License