A Tour of Italy in the Kitchen, Part 19: Lombardy
One of Italy’s largest regions (home to a staggering one-sixth of the total population of Italy), Lombardy lies in the north of the country, sharing a border with Switzerland. Stretching from the Alps to the lowlands of the Po Valley (covered by water and rice paddies), Lombardy is home to a wide range of landscapes, including breathtaking mountains, expansive rolling hills (famous for vineyards and wine) as well as its lakes.
Lombardy’s food is just as diverse as its population. Rice grows remarkably well here, so risotto dishes find their way onto almost every table. The cattle industry is booming, and provides veal shanks for ossobuco. Stews, soups, heavily-sauced polentas, hearty filled raviolis and slow-braised meat dishes are all-around favorites as well. Dairy is profuse, so butter and cream are used much more liberally than the traditional olive oil base for sauces. Agri di Valtorta, Bagoss, Bitto, Branzi, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Provolone Valpadana are just a few of the excellent cheeses crafted here. Lombardy is definitely a cheese-lover’s paradise.
Lombardy is the home of panettone (a rich bread made with candied fruits, citrus and raisins), the Christmas favorite.
Although Lombardy is primarily considered the industrial and commercial capital of Italy, you will find some of the most artisan, small production wines made here. The top wines here are red, and include Bonarda (also known as Croatina), Buttafuoco, a blend of Barbera, Bonarda, Uva Rara and other red grapes, and Sangue di Giuda, a similar blend somewhat like Lambrusco. Franciacorta, on the shores of Lake Iseo, is known almost entirely for its sparkling wines made by the traditional Champagne method of individual fermentation in the bottle, using the traditional Champagne grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero.