At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Cesare “Caesar” Cardini – restaurateur

Italian emigrant who invented Caesar salad


Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the ingredients for his famous salad
Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the
ingredients for his famous salad
The restaurateur who history credits with inventing the Caesar salad was born on this day in 1896 in Baveno, a small town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.

Cesare Cardini was one of a large family, with four brothers and two sisters.  In common with many Italians in the early part of the 20th century, his brothers Nereo, Alessandro and Gaudenzio emigrated to the United States, hoping there would be more opportunities to make a living.

Nereo is said to have opened a small hotel in Santa Cruz, California, south of San Francisco, while Alessandro and Guadenzio went to Mexico City.

Cesare left Italy for America in 1913. Records indicate he disembarked at Ellis Island, New York on May 1, having endured the transatlantic voyage as a steerage passenger, sleeping in a cargo hold equipped with dozens of bunk beds, which was the cheapest way to travel but came with few comforts.

He is thought then to have returned to Italy for a few years, working in restaurants in Milan, but ventured back to the United States in 1919.  This time he settled, first in Sacramento, then in San Diego, on the Pacific Ocean and close to the border with Mexico.

During the Prohibition Era, from 1920 to 1933, when alcoholic drinks were illegal in the US, many restaurateurs in San Diego crossed the border in Tijuana, where there were no restrictions, and attracted streams of American diners.

Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for
a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
The story is that Cesare – by now known as Caesar – opened a business in Tijuana, probably with his brother, Alessandro, who was calling himself Alex.  They were always busy on the major public holidays and Cesare’s daughter, Rosa, claimed that Caesar salad came into being on Independence Day, 1924. With a packed restaurant, her father suddenly found himself running short of ingredients.

Whenever a diner found his choice of dish was no longer available, Cesare is said to have offered to make them a special salad, made with such a mouthwatering combination of ingredients they would be delighted they opted to try it.

In fact, the only salad ingredient he had left was some romaine lettuces. Yet with great theatre, he is said to have arrived at the table with a bowl of lettuce leaves, into which he tossed raw eggs, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce, mixed them all together and invited diners to savour the flavour by eating the coated leaves by holding the stem with their fingers.

Needless to say, the combination of sweet lettuce and the creamy, tangy dressing proved a big hit. The restaurant became even more popular and over the next few years the recipe rapidly spread across America.

The Cardini brand is still on sale today
The Cardini brand is still on sale today
Wallis Simpson, the Socialite for whom the English king, Edward VIII, so controversially gave up the throne in 1936, is said to have introduced the salad to Europe by insisting that her French chef learned how to make it.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a change in the gambling laws caused tourism to Tijuana to go into decline, and Cesare Cardini, with wife, Camille, and daughter Rosa, moved back to the United States, first to San Diego in 1935, and then to Los Angeles in 1938.

Demand for the salad dressing continued, and friends began asking for bottles and jars to be filled with it so they might enjoy it at home.  In time, Rosa began to sell bottles of the dressing on a market stall and was so successful her father decided it was worth producing on a commercial scale.

In 1948, he patented the recipe and established Caesar Cardini Foods, which gradually expanded its range of dressings and became an established name on tables across America and beyond.

Cardini died in 1956 after suffering a stroke at his Los Angeles home but Rosa took over the running of the company and developed the business to the extent that, at its peak, one in every four bottles of dressing on US tables had Cardini’s name on it.

She retired in 1988, although the name lives on. The licence to use the brand name is currently held by T Marzetti and Company, a business also founded by Italian emigrants, Teresa and Giuseppe Marzetti.

Rosa Cardini’s version of the origins of Caesar salad is not universally accepted.  Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardinis, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it Aviator's Salad.

Alessandro Cardini also claimed ownership of the recipe, which he also called Aviator's Salad, while Livio Santini, who worked in the kitchen at Cesare’s Tijuana restaurant, said that he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, and that Cesare borrowed the recipe from him.

The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore
The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the
western shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The lakeside town of Baveno, where Cesare Cardini was born, lies on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, just a few kilometres from its better known neighbour, Stresa. Both look out over the Borromean Islands, famous for their beautiful cultivated gardens.  The attractions of Baveno include its mineral water springs, the pink granite that is quarried nearby and a series of opulent villas dotted along the nearby coastline, including the Villa Henfrey-Branca, noticeable for its castle-like turrets, where Queen Victoria was a regular visitor from Britain as a guest of the engineer Charles Henfrey.

The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
Travel tip:

Although smaller in area than Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore is the longest of the Italian lakes, stretching for 65km (40 miles) from Arona in Lombardy to its northern extreme in Locarno in Switzerland.  It is also extremely deep, plunging 179m (587ft) at its deepest.  Because of its length, it has a different character at the Swiss end, where the scenery has an alpine feel, compared with the southern tip, which is at the edge of the Lombardy plain. The Borromean islands are the lake's biggest draw for tourists, with three of them - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori are accessible to the public.

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