Food and wine traditions, and local specialties, vary greatly as one travels throughout Italy. This is likely due to foreign influences, availability of products, and long-standing traditions that may be unique to a particular geography or ethnic group. Whatever the reason, it makes Italy one of the best foodie destinations in the world!
Milan’s location near Italy’s traditional rice fields in the core of the Po Valley make Risotto alla Milanese the most typical and emblematic dish of this marvelous city. Lombardy cuisine in Mantua is greatly influenced by Emilia culinary traditions (tortellini and tagliatelle); while Bergamo and Brescia have inherited the polenta recipes from Veneto, and we can see some Helvetic influences in Valtellina. Lombardy cuisine is very diverse, and deserves a closer look.
As an appetizer, bresaola is perhaps the most famous cold cut from Lombardy. It is produced in Valtellina as air-dried beef, and is used in many recipes as a low-fat meat alternative. Other famous appetizers are Salame di Varzi, a long-seasoned pork salami, and Salame di Mortara, produced in the small town of Mortara, made of goose and pork meat.
The most famous first courses in Lombardy are Risotto alla Milanese and Tortelli di Zucca from the Mantua area. Pizzoccheri, earthy pasta dressed with greens, potatoes and local cheese, is another famous first course dish from the Valtellina area.
Hearty and substantial second course dishes illustrate Lombardy’s historical influences and traditions, such as the Cotoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal or pork cutlet fried in butter), and Polenta Taragna with Ossobucofrom Bergamo. Some are also surprised to find an abundance of seafood in Milan and the vicinity, which is due to the fact that the most important seafood market in Italy is located in Milan. Once can find seasonal fresh seafood from all over Italy in Milan throughout the year, so do not be shy to have seafood in this landlocked region!
Perhaps due to its geographical position in the center of Europe, and next to Switzerland, it is no surprise that cheese features prominently in many side dishes. Bitto, Provolone, Taleggio, Robiola, and many others are used a accompaniments to vegetables and on their own, adding to the rich variety of Lombardy’s cuisine.
Panettone and torrone are the most famous desserts from the region, with panettone reigning supreme on every Italian Christmas table, and torrone, the famous almond nougat of Cremona, also playing an integral part in Italian holiday traditions.
Lombardy is also known for a variety of excellent wines in Franciacorta (near Lake Garda) and in Valtellina (north of Lake of Como). Sparkling whites and light reds are produced in Franciacorta, with Franciacorta being a DOP region for its sparkling white wine. Valtellina is well-known for its full-bodied red wines, aged in oak barrels. There are a wide variety of small producers in the region, including many experimenting with organic vintages, and it is definitely worth trying something local when possible. Of course, that is always a great recommendation almost anywhere in Italy!