This past summer Neil and I went on an unforgettable trip to Italy. We ate our way through all the amazing places we visited making for an unforgettable culinary experience that resulted in more photos of food than of ourselves.
One of the things that we were most excited to sample was Tiramisu.
It had become a bit of a running joke between Neil and I; in our four years together we had never had good tiramisu together, despite our efforts to track it down all over the place. We had been to tons of restaurants, all claiming to have ‘the best’ or ‘the most authentic’ tiramisu and we would continuously give them the benefit of the doubt, and with one taste, we’d look at each other and know that our search would have to press on.
Though we had never experienced a great tiramisu together, we knew that we were united in our quest, looking for the same qualities in the seemingly-simple dessert; a tiramisu that was really boozy and ‘wet’ in texture, with silky mascarpone cream and a really intense coffee flavor. What could be so hard?
With a fast-approaching trip to Italy, we knew that our search was most likely going to come to an end. We promptly ordered tiramisu on one of our first nights in Rome.
And we never ordered it again.
It was terrible. In fact, it was probably the most disappointing addition to our ‘terrible tiramisu’ list because, well, it was Italy! If the dessert was that much of a let down in its country of birth, then it was probably time to give up. And we pretty much did.
And then, a few months ago we found ourselves in Milford, Ontario. A small, quiet little town in Prince Edward County. We stayed at the charming and hospitable Milford B&B and by fluke had made a reservation at The Milford Bistro, just a few doors down. It wasn’t something we planned, we just sort of happened upon it.
From briefly reading about the place online, we knew that it was owned by Chris and Veronica Pengelly, a husband-wife team who had found their dream in the small town.
Dinner was a set menu with a few options to choose from because it was the busy weekend of the Taste! event. When we originally scanned the menu, Neil and I snobbily (yes I will admit, we can sometimes have moments of snobbery when it comes to food) gave each other a look that said “this seems kind of boring”. The menu was simple and uncomplicated and we had to choose our dessert option when we ordered our mains. The choices were tiramisu or crème brulée and we chose one of each, assuming we knew what we were in for.
The entire meal, course after course, was a huge, unexpected, delightful surprise.
Keeping in tune with the philosophy of so many restaurants in the county, the food was so fresh, the ingredients so pure and well treated. We couldn’t believe how flavorful our simple salad of local greens and carrots tasted, along with handmade cheese biscuits and the most savory and lovingly-prepared (you could taste the love, I swear) lamb with root vegetables. We enjoyed the meal so much that we both admitted and discussed how wrong we were to initially judge (admitting we’re wrong is not something Neil or I are very good at, by the way!).
But even still, when the dessert came, we kind of expected the same mediocrity that we had experienced everywhere else.
How wrong we were.
With just one bite, I knew this was it. We had found it; the perfect tiramisu in the most unexpected of places! You can see in the photo above just how liquid-ey (but not too liquid-ey!) and creamy this dessert was. It was incredibly boozy in the best of ways, but not overwhelmingly so that it overtook the other flavors of intense coffee and silky cream. It was perfection. We had to take a moment to properly take it all in.
But the story doesn’t end there. We had no idea that this specimen of perfection was actually a very special recipe that meant a lot to The Milford Bistro itself. When I grabbed our waitress to compliment the dessert, she told us that we were lucky it was on the menu that night because it had been taken off their regular menu months before.
It was called “Swedish Tiramisu” and it was a family recipe from owner Veronica’s Swedish roots. Veronica used to make it herself when it was on the regular menu and her husband (and bistro chef) Chris later told us that they were used to people swooning over the dessert and coming from far and wide just to have it again.
But to our dismay, the waitress told us that after battling a sudden and unexpected illness earlier in the summer, Veronica had passed away at only 39 years old. Understandably, her husband pulled the dessert from the regular menu and it hadn’t been made since. Until that night.
I remember shuddering at the sad story and looking over to see Chris, who was still in his chef whites, gabbing away with some bistro guests like the gracious host that he is. Neil and I decided that we had to go over and tell him personally how much we enjoyed our meal and especially, how perfect his wife’s tiramisu had been. He was so lovely to talk to, so grateful for the feedback and such an inspiration, we thought, given the fact that he’s continued on with the bistro so flawlessly.
We left feeling warm and satisfied and deeply touched by Chris and Veronica’s story. It seemed somehow fateful that we ended up there by chance, on just that night.
I emailed Chris a few days later after trying to research “Swedish Tiramisu” online to find out what made it so special, and not finding any information about it. Chris emailed me back right away saying that the reason they named their version of the classic dessert “Swedish Tiramisu” is because it was created by Veronica’s mother who had passed it on to her. We weren’t going to find any information about it because it was unique to them. The secret ingredient (of course there had to be a secret ingredient!) is actually Madeira wine instead of the typical Marsala Wine. He said that it gives a special flavor.
Well, the whole experience was special, in my opinion. I want to thank Veronica and Chris Pengelly for giving my husband and I a special memory of an unforgettable meal, and our first experience together tasting the most exceptional tiramisu we’ve ever had.
We loved it so much that we vowed to try making our own based on The Milford Bistro’s version…. Stay tuned for ‘part 2’ of this post!