The cuisine of the Lombardy region is more varied than many of Italy's other regions, this is due it's geographic position and the influences Lombardy draws from all it's neighbours and, as with many other regions, the influences of it's historical conquerors. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the region was dominated by Spain, and even today, long almost every trace of Spanish rule has left the region, the Spanish influence can still be seen in the regions love of saffron rice and risotto. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century the region was governed by the Austrians, whose wiener schnitzel has evolved into today coteletta alla Milanese (breadcrumbed veal cutlet), Lombard cuisine combines the typical food habits one would associate with its geography, Northern Lombardy's close proximity to the Alps has led this part of the region to develop a protein-heavy mountain cuisine, however, the low-land areas around the flatlands of the Po valley have developed a carbohydrate-heavy diet, as in any lowland menu.
Bergamot and Brescia where once under Ventian rule, adding he another cullinary influence to the Lombardy mix. In Mantua and Crema, the local cuisine is definitely influenced by is historical masters, the Emilians. And finally, one of Lombardy's most neighbours the Swiss, to the north, have influenced the food throughout the region, but particularly in the region around Como. the area around Como has been a cradle of culinary talent since ancient times. Celebrated chef Martino Rossi, author of possibly one on Italy's most influential cook books, the liber de rate coquinaria (1450 AD). The Napolionic invasion brought the French classic dish of met casserole, cassoela in Lombardy, which is generally served on Sundays with polenta.
The eating habits of the Milanese are heavily influenced by their hectic lifestyle, Milanese people tend to see food as a fuel to help them get through their day by loading up with nourishing substances. The humourous, yet not very politically correc, Guide Xenofobe, has this to say of the Milanese people -
" the only reason some Milanese eat is due to the fact that most antistress drugs say " must be eaten on a full stomach" on the bottle"
Historically, Milans supremacy over its surrounding area was probably due to its water supply, Milan had a huge reservoir, the glaciers of the Alps. Water would flow down to Milan from higher up the mountains and would fill the vast basins, which can be found under Milans subsoil, these can be seen in the regions piazza's and boulevards of the city, where, no matter how dry the regions summers may be, the plants and flowers never whither.
Lombardy's well irrigated agricultural land has one person to thank, Leonardo di vinci, who while studying in Milan designed the regions irrigation systems. This irrigation has led to lush green pastural land, which may well have struggled without the irrigation. This has also led to the regions flourishing cattle-breeding industry, meaning that despite Lombardy's mostly industrial economy, it's agricultural economy is the second highest in Italy, beaten by Emilia Romagna.
The city of Bologna sits against a range of hills which faces the north, similar to Bergamo which sits against a range of hills that faces the south. Between these two areas stretches the Vale of Lombardy, the largest cultivated valley in the civilised world today.
Thanks to the availability of water within the Lombardy the regions two main crops are rice, grown in the sodden Lomellina Valley, between Pavia and Piedmont and to the southwest of Mantua, and the grain, which is cultivated and harvested on every available and accessible stretch of land, which helps to feed the regions flourishing swine and cattle industry.
Despite the regions prosperity, the cuisine is still very peasant in its origins with many Lombardian dishes making excellent use of leftovers. The Lombardian cooks view is "if it's good, why throw it away !!! ". The Milanese are very proud of the peasant cuisine and dishes such as risi al salto (re-fried risotto from the previous day) and their mondeghili (meatballs made from chopped up leftover stew meat from the day before).
Among Lombardy's typical products, one stands out as a political statement from the region, the cheese Bel Paese (beautiful country). Bel Paese was one of Italy's first attempts to promote a food brand using the ideal of the idyllic lifestyle. The list of cheese made in Lombardy, is almost infinite. In the northern part of the region are alpine cheeses made up in the mountain pastures and are nearly all produced with cows milk , this is different to other mountain regions of Italy where the cheeses tend to be made from the goats or sheep milk. In order not to be reliant on its neighbour Emilia Romagna for the hard cows milk cheese Parmesan, Lombardy developed its on hard cows milk cheese called Grana, which can either be Grana Padana, from the Po valley, or Grana Lodigiano, from Lodi, which is only produced in small quantities for local connoisseurs. Grana Lodigiano is aged for around four years but despite this extended ageing is said to "still shed a tear" when cut. There a two types of Lodigiano made in Lodi, depending upon the time of year the cheese was made. The first Grana Lodigiano is made in the summer so the milk is said to have a different flavour as well as vitamin content and Grana Maggengo, which is made in may, which is said to change the flavour and vitamin content of the milk.
In the provinces of Bergammo, Biella, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Cunco, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Novara, Pavia, Varese, Verbania and Vercelli are all areas with one product in common, Gorgonzola. The story of Gorgonzola's creation is typically Italian, a young apprentice cheese maker spent a day chatting and flirting with a local girl and forgot to put away the days fresh curds and left it out over night. The next day he realised his mistake but rather than owning up to the cheese maker he just added I to the days fresh curds. Thinking he had go away with it, nothing was said and the cheese was aged as usual. But three months on when the cheese was cut, it was found to have a green mould running through it, not wanting to throw I away it was tried and discovered to be delicious, so by accident Gorgonzola was born.
Risotto is known world wide as an Italian dish, but it originated in Lombardy. The original Milanese risotto's were made using ox marrow and flavoured with local medicinal tasting herbs. Nowadays, risotto with saffron is a regional favourite where it accompanies the Milanese classic Osso Bucco, veal shank roasted in tomatoes with celery, carrot and herbs and served with gremolata.
The Wines of Lombardy
When many people think of Lombardy, their first thoughts are of Milan, opera, fashion and gastronomy . . But rarely to wine. Lombardy has always produced wine, the Milanese are big wine drinkers and Lombardy also produces base wine to supply to sparkling wine producers all over Italy, but very little of its wine, with the exception of the Spumante of Franciacorta, is rarely seen outside the region (click here to find out more about The Wines Of Lombardy .)
Typical Dishes of Lombardy
Bev'r in vin - a wine broth from mantua.
Nervitt - veal cartilages cubed and served in a spicy sauce.
Mondeghili - meatballs made from leftover stewed meat, eggs and grana padana.
Agnolotti and Raviolli - filled with capon, marrow, cinnamon, cloves and grana padana.
Caronsei - type of raviolli from Bergamo and Brescia, filled with sausage or spinach and egg, raisins, cheese and breadcrumbs.
Cappelloni - small filled pasta from Lomellina.
Pizzoccheri - buckwheat pasta served with cabbage, sage and butter.
Zuppa Pavese - hearty vegetable and bean soups, eaten around pavia.
Gnocchetti alla lariana - Larian style gnocchi from around Lake Como.
Mariconde - little dough balls made with egg, cheese, butter and bread.
Risotto - made with snails, pork cutlet, water chestnuts, bone marrow, fresh water shrimp, etc
Polenta taragna - stirred polenta made with buckwheat flour and cornmeal and seasoned with cheese.
Polenta e osei - polenta with wild birds (often blackbirds).
Casseola - casserole of pig feet, ribs and head with lightly pickled cabbage.
Anatra alla valcuvia - wild duck baked in clay.
Cotoletta Milanese - breadcrumbed veal cutlet, fried.
Osso bucco - cross cut veal shin baked in tomato sauce and fine diced vegetables, served with gremolata and risotto Milanese ( saffron risotto).
Polenta alla lodigiana - cheese encased in two slices of polenta then bread crumbed and shallow fried.
Busecca - stewed beef tripes.
Other dishes such as stewed frogs, stewed pigeon in a crust and freshwater fish, such as, shad, char, lake salmon, trout, eel, grayling, perch, carp, turbot, tench, whitefish and chub are all eaten around in Lakeland areas of Lombardy.
Torta sbrisolana - crumb cake from Mantua.
Torta paridiso - paradise cake from Pavia.
Pan dei morti - All souls day bread flavoured with raisins, dried figs, almonds and cocoa.
Pan de mei - traditional sweet bread made with sweet millet (sometimes cornmeal).