Lombardy is one of the most fertile agricultural districts in Europe. Great productivity but above all, great quality. Especially in the art of making cheese and deli meats, the cultivation of rice and fruits and vegetables.
The region pairs top quality products with the variety of its own gastronomic tradition with very different recipes that share the same richness in ingredients and inspiration.
Fenced to the north by the Alps, crossed at the sides and the south by the Ticino, Mincio and Po rivers, for the most part Lombardy features plains with colour changing landscapes.
Scattered throughout the foothills of the Alps are the lakes formed by ancient glaciers, which stretch towards the valleys: Lake Maggiore, Iseo, Lugano, Como, and Garda. In spite of the nearby mountains, having these lakes allows cultivations typical of much milder climates on their shores, such as citruses, olive groves and grapes.
Proceeding south from the Prealps stands fertile Brianza, located between the two branches of Lake Como. This is a land of gentle hills, a favourite traditional vacation spot of the Milanese. Lomellina is next, confined between the Ticino, Sesia and Po rivers, with various cultivations of rice and other grains. Continuing on, there is the Oltrepò Pavese area, with its production of fine wines in the foothills of the Apennines.
Reaching the Po Plains, the landscape changes: broad farmlands, interspaced with small villages and poplar groves along the banks of the Po river.
Milan was founded by the Gauls and it was one of four capitals of the Roman Empire and a major centre of Christianity. Here a multitude of monuments mark the passing of the centuries and the domination of the succession of the rulers that governed the city and the region.
Every city and town in the region guards small or important art treasures, which bears witness to the relevant role this area has had in the history of Italy.
Among the most typical first courses there is Risotto (Milanese being world famous), prepared with a staple of Italy’s northern regions, butter, and combined with ingredients such as mushrooms, peas, beans, sausages, frogs, pumpkins, and saffron.
Rice is also used in soups and vegetable Minestrone, often with an abundance of vegetables and flavoured with pancetta or pork rind.
In the mountain areas, top ranking is shared with Polenta, dressed with cheese, meat sauce, migratory birds (like in the area of Bergamo and Brescia), garlic and butter.
Pizzoccheri from Valtellina is homemade pasta with a special cereal, buckwheat called Fraina, dressed with boiled vegetables and cheese. The area of Mantua is instead renowned for its sweet and rich Pumpkin tortelli, of Renaissance origin.
Meat main courses include Cassoeula, a hearty winter meal based on savoy cabbage and pork meat, Cutlet Milanese, traditionally sizzled in foamy butter, Ossobuco, veal shank that often turns into a one-course meal when served with Saffron Risotto; Timballo di piccione, pigeon timbale that can be traced back to the Renaissance, and Busecca, tripe cooked with broad white butter beans.
Main courses based on freshwater fish are also common, such as Shad Comasca-style, Lavarelli with wine, Frogs in stew, Tench Lariana-style.
Desserts from Lombardy rule holiday celebrations in the entire country: Panettone, rich in raisins and candied fruit, Colomba, sprinkled with almonds, and Spongarda or Torrone from Cremona, Amaretti from Saronno, Sbrisolona from Mantua are appreciated and loved everywhere.
Bovine breeding, introduced in the region’s plains since the time of the Longobards, gave raise to remarkable dairy production, perfected in Medieval times by the Cistercian monks. Flagship products certainly are: Gorgonzola, Quartirolo Lombardo, Mascarpone Lodigiano, Taleggio, Bitto, the many Goat cheeses, Crescenza, and Grana Padano.
Among deli meats, Valtellina produces a famous product: Bresaola made with beef (originally it was venison or pork) with a maturation period similar to ham. However, this is not the only deli meat with special characteristics: goat or sheep Violino from Val San Giacomo; or goose salami and ham, typical of the area of Pavia and Lomellina.
The Salami from Varzi and Salami Milano are made with traditional pork meat.
Boiled meats are often served with Mostarda from Cremona, made with fruits of the season candied and covered in a mustard-flavoured syrup; it can be either sweet or tangy.
Although we are in the land of butter, two important extra virgin olive oils need to be mentioned: Garda and Laghi Lombardi. Within Lombardy’s wines, noteworthy are the sparkling whites from Franciacorta and important reds from Valtellina.
Alessandro Manzoni, the great writer from Milan, was particularly susceptible to elegant outfits and good cuisine. It seems that his highest debts were owed to the deli shop owner and the tailor. He was partial to the glazed head of veal, but went nuts especially for sweets and chocolate. When the owner of the Grucce bakery, immortalized in the Promessi sposi (The Betrothed), sent to him the Sfogliate to express his appreciation for the unexpected publicity, Manzoni wrote to him that the gift “gratified his palate”, not only “his vanity”.
Some typical recipes
Here are some typical recipes of the regional tradition. Why not giving them a try?
Tasty Casera cheese fritters, typical of Valtellina.
Risotto alla milanese
A dish symbol of Lombardy, where the simplicity of rice is enhanced with the flavour and colour of saffron.
Cotoletta alla milanese
An evergreen classic.
Salame di cioccolato
A delicious dessert with chocolate and nuts for true connoisseurs and authentic gourmets.