Lombardy is a region in northern Italy and former home to the Lombards. The region is defined geographically by the Alps to the north, and the Ticino, Mincio and Po Rivers on the sides and to the south.
Lombardy is a region in northern Italy and former home to the Lombards. The region is defined geographically by the Alps to the north, and the Ticino, Mincio and Po Rivers on the sides and to the south. Mantua and Pavia, two provinces located just beyond the Po River, are also considered part of the region. The land is primarily flat, but the landscape does include some soft hills and marshlands.
The area leading up to the Alps is dotted with lakes, created by ancient glaciers, which spread across the valley, including Lake Maggiore, Iseo, Lugano, Como and even Lake Garda. The climate along the shores of these lakes is quite mild compared to what you would expect due to their vicinity to the mountains. The moderate temperatures allow for the cultivation of citrus, olives and wine grapes.
Moving south from the foothills of the Alps, between the two branches of lake Como, you will find the fertile, hilly area of Brianza. In the past, Brianza was a favorite vacation spot for wealthy people from Milan. Lomellina is an area sandwiched between the Ticino, Sesia and Po Rivers, and known for its excellent wine. Continuing south along the Pianura Padana, or Padan Plain, the landscapes changes into vast farmlands, interspersed with poplar trees. The trees line the banks of the Po River and lead you to the calm, somewhat sleepy towns and villages of Lombardy.
Milan, the capital of Lombardy, was founded by the Gauls and became one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire. Milan was also a major Christian center thanks to an edict of Constantine the Great and to his bishop Ambrogio, or Saint Ambrose. One can still visit the basilica of San Lorenzo and Sant’Ambrogio. Many other monuments have withstood the test of time and various rulers. Some of Milan’s most impressive monuments are: Castello Sforzesco and the Duomo, the churches of San Satiro and Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper. Teatro alla Scala and the Villa Reale are products of the neoclassical period.
Everyone in Lombardia seems to collect art, of all shapes, sizes and values. This is a sign of the artistic value of the region throughout Italian history. Equally as important and as varied as the regional art and artists, are the culinary offerings of the region.
Risotto is considered one of the most typical first courses in Lombardy and in particular the Risotto alla Milanese. Saffron gives this dish its signature golden color and comes from the former practice of adding gold leaf to the rice. Throughout northern Italy, risotto is traditionally made with butter and other local ingredients like mushrooms, sausage, frogs and pumpkin. Rice is also used in soups and vegetable minestrone.
Polenta is considered as important an ingredient as rice, especially in the mountains parts of the region. It is served with cheese, small birds, and butter, of course. In Valtellina, you will find Pizzoccheri, a type of homemade, tagliatelle-like pasta, made from buckwheat flour and served with boiled vegetables and Bitto, a locally produced mixed cow and sheep’s milk cheese. Whereas in Mantua, you will be served tortelli di zucca, ravioli-like pasta stuffed with rich, sweet pumpkin.
Cattle has been raised in the plains since the age of the Lombards, which gave birth to considerable dairy production, perfected by the Cistercians monks during the Middle Ages. Some of these regional cheeses include: Lodigiano, Gorgonzola DOP, Quartirolo, Mascarpone from Lodi, Taleggio DOP. The cattle were and still are used for its meat. Bresaola DOP, or aged beef, is a specialty of Valtellina. Originally it was made with deer or other hoofed animals. Bresaola is not the only notable salume made in Lombardia. In Val San Giacomo, you will find Violino, made with goat and sheep meat; Pavese and Lomellina are home to typical goose sausages and prosciutto.
Pork also makes an appearance on the tables in Lombardy. Pork sausages from Varzi and Milano are typical of the region, so is Cassoeula, a winter dish made with pork skin, ribs, legs, sausages, head and cabbage. Mostarda di Cremona, an Italian fruit preserve, is often served with boil meats and is available in sweet and spicy version.
And last, but not least, the desserts of the region can be found throughout Italy, especially during the religious holidays. Panettone is a soft, sweet bread dotted with raisins and candied fruit found around Christmas and Colomba is a dove-shaped Easter bread sprinkled with almonds. Torrone di Cremona and Amaretti di Saronno are typical Lombardian sweets, loved throughout the world. To accompany these treats, you may be served the highly regarded sparkling wine of the region, Franciacorta.