Lombardy  

Lombardy is one of the wealthiest regions of Italy, the most industrialized and among the biggest producer of food in the field of meat, cheese, wine and alimentary products.  The region’s capital is Milano, a large metropolis, an important financial center and the headquarters of the most prominent Italian companies. Commerce and manufacturing are flourishing. Chemical, iron and steel industries are thriving; the textile production is outstanding for its first quality merchandise. The most important Italian fashion houses have their center of operation in Milan, making this city the center of international fashion. The region occupies a good part of the Po’ river valley; Lombardy is where the largest Italian lakes are located. Agriculture and food industries are well developed, because of the fertile terrain, the abundant water from the rivers crossing the land, by the manmade irrigation channels, some designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The favorable condition of the land, the resourcefulness of the people and their cleverness in a continuous search for new systems to improve farming and to better the harvesting has made it possible for this region to achieve one of Italy’s highest standard of living. Rice, wheat, corn, vegetables, potatoes, sugar cane and fruits are agricultural products used locally and processed for export to the Italian and European markets.

The cities of Milano, Como and Varese, Lecco and Bergamo, Lodi and Pavia, Brescia and Sondrio, and Cremona and Mantova are described further down.

In the lower valley fodder is produced in large quantities and harvested eight times a year. Farms rearing cattle and pigs turn out beef, pork and milk, which is processed into cured beef, salami, pasteurized milk, butter, and cheeses like the well known Gorgonzola, Bel Paese or Grana Padana. Factories using modern freezing and dehydrating techniques and traditional canning are scattered all over the region. The largest collection in the world of stone carvings is found in Val Camonica, in the province of Sondrio. Over 250,000 incisions were carved in the rocks in an 8000 years span. Lombardy was inhabited by Celtic tribes until the year 330 BC when the region passed under Roman control. In the year 313 AD, under the Roman imperator Constantine, Milan temporarily became the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Because of the strategic position and of the favorable economic conditions this region has been contested and ruled by many potentates and they all have left traces of their tenancy in the region’s culture, art, architecture, and in the world of cooking.

The beautiful landscape, the numerous lakes and the resorts built around them make Lombardy a destination for summer sports lovers and an attractive vacation land. The north-west part of Milan, the regions’ capital, has developed an economy concentrated mostly in the industry and tourism. The cities that can be included in this area are Lecco, Varese, Como, Bergamo, La Brianza and Monza where the most important Italian manufactures of chemical products, steelwork, auto parts, motorcycles, home appliances, heavy machinery for agriculture and the textile industry are located; including  large establishment producing firearms, electronics, furniture, shoes, food, and beverages. The alpine region offers dream vacations, including hotels and lodging, restaurants, entertainment, ski resorts for winter sports and water sports in the lakes for the summer tourists. South of Milano, the provinces of Lodi, with its field supplying methane gas and Pavia, producing cereals in particular rice, wine and dairy, have an economy that has evolved into service oriented businesses. On the west side of the region Sondrio, Brescia, Cremona and Mantua have their economy based on farming, and beef, pork and chicken breeding. The lush pastures, abundance of water have favored the production of milk of unsurpassed quality; dairy farms dedicated to cheese making produce a variety of traditional and excellent cheeses.

The clean air, the attractive landscape makes tourism an important contribution to the diversified economy of those provinces, where the tourists from neighboring regions come to enjoy the many forms of outdoor recreation in the lakes, streams, and rolling hills. Lately some service industries have established, particularly small manufactures, favored by the cheap power sources in the area. 

 

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Milano 

Milano is a first class metropolis, where the most important Italian manufacturers and institutions reside: Italy’s financial center, headquarters of the major worldwide industrial companies, and of the most important publishing and fashion houses. If Milano was a country it would have been the 28th richest in the world. The world famous La Galleria is the oldest shopping center in the world, the Fiera di Milano, the Fair of Milan is Europe’s largest.

A long chapter could be written about Milan history, art and culture. Castles, fortifications, infrastructures, old and recent tell the history of this city.  Museums, art galleries, like the Brera Academy, founded in the XVIII century by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, master pieces by Leonardo da Vinci “Last Supper”, Il Duomo, Milan’s Cathedral the forth largest church in the world and a Gothic masterpiece, La Scala, the leading opera house in the world and an academy to train new generations of singer, musicians and artists: these are only examples of the dedication and interest to the art by the people of Milan. This city is a center for publishing and printing companies which produce 75% of the Italian books and magazine is also the home of The Bocconi University, one of the worlds best business universities and the Sacro Cuore Catholic University, the biggest in the world.

Milano may be known for the cotoletta alla Milanese, though Milano has a characteristic and traditional cuisine with simple and humble dishes, along with elaborate and rich preparations, however it remains original and tasty. The world famous Panettone, the Christmas dessert, is the typical Milanese egg bread filled with raisins and candied citron, and baked by millions to be enjoyed by every Italian family and exported all over the world. Salame Milano is also appreciated world wide. In Milano the majority of restaurants are specialized in regional cuisines from other parts of Italy and not surprising you can sample good cooking from Tuscany, Abruzzo, Sicily, Calabria, and from other regions.

Still in the suburbs there are trattorie where traditional and typical Milanese foods can be sampled, accompanied with one of the wines produced locally. Rice is preferred to pasta and the Milanese cooking does not feature much tomato sauce. The famous for risotto alla Milanese made with saffron sauce and beef marrow, the breaded veal cutlet, the busecca, tripe with beans and sage, the ossobuco alla Milanese, braised veal shank with gremolata a condiment made with parsley, garlic, lemon zest, black pepper and salt, vitello tonnato, braised veal with wine and garnished with tuna-caper sauce, are a few samples of cooking in Milan. Classic dishes are the cassoeula, a stew made with pork rib chops, pork skin, sausages, Savoy cabbage and other vegetables, or the brasato, beef with onions slowly cooked in wine until tender, served with potatoes and the mondeghili, small meatballs fried in butter.

In the area surrounding Milano, ducks, pigeons, hares and other wild game are prepared by stewing, grilling, baking or prepared in salmi, a marinade made with wine, or lemon and vinegar, spices, herbs and vegetables where game meat is soaked for a certain time and then simmered over a low heat until the meat is tender and all the ingredients have acquired their full taste. Gorgonzola, Stracchino and Bel Paese di Melzo cheeses were created in the province of Milan. This city is famous for the salame Milano, the well known Panettone, but you must taste the torta di riso, a torte of rice cooked in milk with sugar, diced candied citron, almonds, flavors and spices. Monza and Brianza are not far from Milano and they share their gastronomy with the regions capital.  

 

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Como and Varese 

 

Como and Varese share some of the specialties made in the lakes region. The filascetta is a simple and delicious appetizer offered in the area: it is made with bread dough lightly sweetened kneaded with cheese and red onions. Another dish characteristic of the area is the pate’ cavedano obtained from fish found in the lakes. In addition in Comorice is prepared with perch fillets, tench, tenca, a fish of the carp family, cooked with pumpkin or peas; carps, eels and trout are fried, stewed with vegetables, grilled, preserved salted, pickled or smoked. Polenta with meat specialties, including stracotti, which is beef stewed with wine, chickens and game are other popular fares. The supa de pan, a soup made with stale bread, eggs, broth and cheese is an easy thick and hearty zuppa appreciated on cold days.


Some of the specialties prepared in
 Varese are typical in most of the areas, like the cassoeula and risotti, various rice dishes prepared with vegetables, fish or meat.  Shrimps or red perch are fried in butter and served with polenta rustida, corn meal mush fried in butter.  A local delicacy is the Faraona alla Creta, a historical dish that goes back prior to the Medieval Age: it is a guinea fowl stuffed with butter, olive oil and chopped carrots, celery and onions, aromatized with garlic, sage, rosemary, parsley, cloves, and after being completely covered first with sliced prociutto, and then with parchment paper, it is enclosed with clay and baked for three hours. A variety of biscuits and desserts are homemade and/or baked in pasty shops to utilize the large harvest of chestnuts in both provinces. Varese
is also noted for the white asparagus, the amaretti cookies and the Amaretto di Saronno Liquor.
The wine produced in the area of the
 Lake Maggiore and Lake Como is consumed locally. The whites are light and have a fresh and fruity flavor, the ruby reds are characterized by their unique soft and mellow taste. The region near Lugano  Lake produces the homonym wine. This wine can be relatively delicate and light when young or a great full-bodied wine with earthy character and intensive aroma when aged in oak barrels. 

 

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Lecco and Bergamo 

 

The cooking of Lecco is based on meat especially pork, fish from the lakes, game and an abundance of mushrooms and vegetables. The gastronomy in Bergamo is richer and heartier: pork, poultry, game and an abundant use of butter and lard. Corn, grain, rice, is cultivated and risotto and polenta are in every day meals. Profuse pastures of the provinces of Lecco and Bergamo favor the sheep herding, pork and cattle breeding and the abundant production of milk turns into large quantities and varieties of cheeses: Grana Padana, Provolone di Val Padana, Taleggio, to name the most traditional. The large production of sausages, cured pork and salami, is shipped all over Italy. Hunting is a popular sport practiced for recreation and for food. Polenta e codeghi’ is polenta with sausage made with bacon rinds and served with mushroom sauce; the casonsei are very light half moon shaped ravioli, stuffed with pork, breadcrumbs and served with a buttery sauce and Crescenza cheese. Tortellini stuffed with zucca, pumpkin, saffron risotto, or braised rabbit with polenta and radicchio, polenta and birds are mostly served on Sundays and are traditional and standard fares in Lecco and Bergamo.

Oseli scapac, run away birds, it is a recipe from Bergamo, where the birds are substituted with thin slices of pork or veal stuffed with fontina cheese, onions, prociutto, herbs and sautéed in a butter-wine sauce and cooked with tomato. The minestrone freddo alla Bergamasca, with legumes, vegetables and rice and the cuore alla Bergamasca, is veal’s heart sautéed in butter and sprinkled with freshly minced garlic, parsley and basil.  A variety of cookies is homemade or prepared in fine dolcerie, pastry shops; focaccia made with sweetened bread dough and kneaded with eggs is a simple and fragrant treat.  In San Pellegrino Terme, in the province of Bergamo, the famous mineral water is bottled at the springs and over 500 million bottles are shipped to the five Continents.

The wines Cabernet and Merlot produced in these provinces are for local consumption and made in modest quantities. In the province of Bergamo the Valcalepio D.O.C. wine is blend of Merlot and Cabernet; it is a red wine with amiable and velvety taste. The White Valcalepio D.O.C. is a dry and soft medium bodied wine, made with Pinot Bianco, Pinot grigio and Chardonnay. Better known is the Moscato di Scanzio, Valcalepio D.O.C., a ruby red, sweet, musky flavored wine with a touch of sage, cinnamon and honey. 

 

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Lodi and Pavia 

 

Since the 12th century the people of Lodi have worked in the construction and improvement of an irrigation system to bring water to the countryside and create one of the most fertile Italian provinces. This town is rich with monuments, churches, and castles that remind us of its history. It is also known for being the largest producer of Grana Padana cheese and for the soft mascarpone and Bel Paese cheeses. Polenta, rice, poultries, pork and fish dishes are deliciously prepared in the homes and in restaurants, the fegato alla Lodigiana is a slice of veal’s liver sprinkled with fennel seeds, covered with a slice of prosciutto crudo, raw ham, rolled and covered with pancetta, then it is fried with butter and served with polenta.

Pavia is a quaint town with picturesque buildings, Romanesque and Gothic churches, cobbled street and characteristic old bridges. In the Monastery of La Certosa the chartreuse liquor is produced by the monks; in Pavia was originated the Colomba Pasquale, a sweet-bread in the shape of a dove consumed in every Italian house for Easter. The zuppa Pavese is a broth with eggs, cheese and croutons, tasty fresh water shrimps are sautéed or made with risotto, Certosa style, eels are stewed with tomato and Barbera wine, snails are sautéed with parsley and garlic; but the real specialties are the goose salami, and the frogs legs fried or in guazzetto, first fried in butter and finished with a light tomato sauce. 

A large quantity and variety of the red wines are produced with the Bonarda (Croatina grape), Barbera and Pinot Nero grapes that are grown profusely in the area that includes Lodi and  Pavia. The Oltrepo’ Pavese D.O.C. (Denomination of Origin Controlled) assigned to the wines produced in this district  are exceptional vintage still wine, notorious behind the region and exported all over the world, also it is available as a sparkling Oltrepo’ Pavese Spumante. Oltrepo’ Pavese Barbera is a dark flavorful, hearty and dry wine; Oltrepo’ Pavese Bonarda is a robust and rich wine with tinges of fruits and clove. Other Oltrepo’ Pavese D.O.C. reds are Pinot Nero, Cabernet, Buttafuoco, Sangue di Giuda, and Oltrepo’ Pavese D.O.C. Rosso. A few of the Oltrepo’ Pavese D.O.C. whites are Riesling Italico, Chardonnay, Cortese, and Pinot which are lively wines, slightly sparkling with notes of fruits and with a fresh taste.  The Oltrepo’ Malvasia D.O.C is a pale yellow wine, with floral scent and a delicate hint of almonds: available dry, sweet, and sparkling Spumante.  Moscato d’ Oltrepo’, also a D.O.C., is a light, crispy and refreshing semi-sweet wine to enjoy as aperitif or with fruit and cheese. 

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Brescia and Sondrio 

Brescia is a center of many industries, the home of Beretta firearms, and an agricultural developed area. The proximity of the lake of  Garda, the lake of Iseo and the Alps favors summer and winter tourism, helping the economy of the province. From the numerous agricultural harvested products a traditional and country style cooking is created and from the lakes fish dishes are prepared in inventive ways. Riso sporco is a soupy risotto made with boned chicken, broth and parsley, another soup is the brosadai, small square pasta made from thin fried egg dough, cooked in meat broth, or the gnocarei, a soup made with a mixture of flours (wheat and buckwheat) mixed with milk and dropped in small balls into boiling water and served with butter, fontina or bitto cheese. Other fares are the polenta with sausages, polenta with birds; the polenta pasticciata is made with cold polenta layered with mushroom-meat sauce, with Milano salame, cheese, baked to blend the flavors and served warm. Sondrio offers the pizzocheri, fettuccine pasta made with a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flour and served with a traditional lightly garlicky, buttery sauce made with Savoycabbage, potatoes, sage and Casera or the local Grana Padana cheese.

Polenta taragna is made with buckwheat flour and cornmeal, the sciatt are fritters made with buckwheat and flour kneaded with fizzy water and grappa, shaped into little balls with a chunk of the soft cheese Casera inside:these balls are fried and served as appetizers or with sautéed chicory or salad. Sausages, pork, beef, poultry and game are abundant and served mostly with the preferred risotto or with polenta. A delicious antipasto is the bresaola, a local specialty, it is aged, cured, salted meat, and also ducks and snails are offered in both provinces as well as the fish specialties from the many rivers and lakes. Baked trout are served with mayonnaise, eels are fried and preserved in vinegar and white wine, pikes are sautéed in butter and stewed with vegetables, red wine and a fish reduced consommé. Fresh water shrimps and frogs are sautéed in butter, at times are served in combination with a special cheese sauce. Among the cheeses produced in these two provinces: the Bitto is made with a mix of cows and goat’s milk, whereas the semi soft Casena and the very soft and delicate Scimudin cheeses are made with cow’s milk

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Sondrio and
 Brescia are two of the most important Lombard provinces dedicated to wine making. In the valley North-East of Como Lake, in the province of Sondrio, the Valtellina D.O.C. and Valtellina D.O.C. Superiore wines are produced from Chiavannesca grapes also known as Nebbiolo. Other grapes produced in smaller quantities, Rossola, Frugala and Pignola are used to blend with Nebbiolo. Valtellina wine sampled  when still young is dry, slightly tannic, high in acidity and with a mild taste; when it is aged over five years it mellows and its flavor and  aroma can be enjoied in full.  From the Valtellina D.O.C., the Sforzato della Valtellina D.O.C. is bottled and produced by many wine makers: it is a high alcohol, robust and popular. The Valtellina D.O.C. Superiore family of wines comprises Sasella, Grumello, Inferno, Maroggia and Valgella: they are elegant complex wines, with deep, lasting flavors and aroma.

The territory near Brescia, Francicorta produces the best Italian sparkling wine fermented in the bottle. Berlucchi is an old wine establishment and leader in bottling and manufacturing quality sparkling wines and spumanti using the method “Champenois”; Ca del Bosco is another recognized leader in this field. Around the Garda Lake, the Garda D.O.C. white wines Garganega, Cortese, Chardonnay, Savignon and Pinot are pleasant with a refreshing, vibrant and delectable taste. The Garda D.O.C. reds are light and lively, relatively dry, rubin red in color: they include Corvina, Marzemino, Barbera, Pinot, Cabernet, and an exceptional Merlot. Cellatica and Botticino are other premium wines offered in the province of Brescia.  

 

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Cremona and Mantova 

Cremona is located at the border between Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. Cremonese cooking although it has been influenced by the eclectic Emilian cuisine it has kept its own character and original zest. One of the specialties are the ravioli marubini, a dough made with flour and water, filled with crumbled amaretti and spiced mostaccioli cookies, raisins, candied citron grated cheese and nutmeg, served in broth with butter and cheese. The best and various cuts of beef are boiled to make the bollito misto served with the mostarda Cremonese, which is a combination of pitted fruits cooked in a light syrup and preserved with vinegar: these pickled fruits are a sweet-sour delicacy that goes well with the meat. Pork, goose, ducks and mallards are prepared in the countryside with fresh vegetables, risotti and polenta are common dishes. Cotechino is a big fresh pork sausage containing fatback, pork skin, vanilla and other spices; it is boiled and usually served with lentils. From the Po’ River, carp, pike, tench are in abundance and served with the local Vialone rice. Some of the best Italian cheeses are produced in the area; a sweet specialty is the Torrone, nougat made with clover honey, candied fruits, toasted almond and filberts. Antonio Stradivarius was born in Cremona, where a museum with memorabilia is open to the public.

              
Mantova,
 Mantua is one of the oldest cities in Northern Italy, in fact it goes back to Neolithic times and has been occupied by the Etruscans, by the Gauls from France and by the Romans. Virgil, a classical Roman poet, was born near Mantua. Mantua was the home of the Dukes of Gonzaga, a noble family that ruled this province from the XIII to the XVII century. The Gonzaga in the spirit of the Renaissance improved the city by adding beautiful buildings, sponsored arts and trade, open museums, improved infrastructures and created new avenues to commerce with the neighbor regions.  They were gracious hosts to the nobles of Europe visiting Italy, and their guests were served exceptional culinary specialties. The vast menu of the cuisine of Mantua has many original recipes and many recipes borrowed from the nearby regions of the Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.

The cooking is rich of aristocratic and also of traditional popular recipes, making use of the game, pork, beef, and poultry, fish, and milk products and of all the vegetables and legumes produced in the province’s fertile territory.    The tortellini Mantua style are filled with pumpkin, pickled fruits, crumbled amaretti cookies, cheese, nutmeg and cooked in broth. Another soup is the mariconda: it is made with meat broth in which little balls made with cheese, breadcrumbs and eggs are cooked. Some of the dishes are: rice and trigoni, a risotto with water chestnuts, risotto or ravioli with pumpkin, agnoli, triangular pasta, filled with meat and salame, cooked in broth, and other types of homemade pasta with vegetables or meat sauce. Hare or wild duck cacciatore, hunter style is marinated and cooked in tomato sauce. Baccala’ alla Mantovana is salted cod soaked overnight and cooked with butter, garlic, lemon juice and parsley. Tripe is cooked in a light tomato sauce with onions, carrots, celery, cranberry beans and sage; folaga in umido, fulica atra known as coot is a bird cooked with herbs and spices in tomato sauce, stracotto alla Mantovana is slowly stewed beef in wine sauce served with polenta. Eel, pike, carp and  tench are fished in the local water for food and for sport and cooked in sauces or grilled. The sbrisolona, flaky and brittle almond shortcake and a glass of Lambrusco Mantovano is a nice finale to a Mantuastyle meal of ravioli in broth and braised meat with vegetables.
Cremona is an agricultural area dedicated to food production rather than grapes.

Wines in Mantua are not produced in large quantities, however they are appreciated for their quality which has been enhanced to meets the request for superior and more sophisticated wines. The wines produced south of the Lake Garda and labeled as Garda Colli Mantovani D.O.C. are Merlot, Cabernet and Rubino, dry and refreshing red wines with a slight and pleasant bitter after taste; the white D.O.C. Chardonnay, Pinot and Riesling are down-to-earth, decent good wines, moderately tart, rather dry and pleasantly crispy. The Lambrusco Mantovano is mostly produced in the area south of the Po’ River.   

Mrs. Nancy Erdelyi wrote this comment about the Lombardyregion: When we visited Milano…
< one bright spot was the main Cathedral in the city center, magnificent!! Across the square is the Galleria which claims to be the first covered "mall" in
 Europe.  It is a large, yes covered shopping arcade with very high end shops, all on the ground level. The second level is made up of again high end offices and one hotel so ritzy that your need an appointment to make a reservation!!! At the end of the "mall" is the famous La Scala Opera House….