Lombardia (Lombardy) is in northern Italy and is one of the country’s largest and wealthiest regions. Milano (Milan), the capital, is the largest city in Lombardia and is the Italian centre for fashion, design, banking and publishing. Lombardia is a rich, industrial, region and accounts for 25% of the nation’s GDP and 10% of its wealth. Geographically, Lombardia is landlocked and borders Piemonte (Piedmont) to the west, Switzerland to the north, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto to the east, and Emilia-Romagna to the south. The Alps run along its northern borders.
Lombardia is strong in agriculture: much of the region stretches east-west along the wide, fertile valley of the Po, Italy’s largest and most important river. Lombardia’s magnificent lakes – Maggiore, Como and Garda – are world famous and give access to Alpine passes that historically connected Lombardia to northern countries and their markets. Its major food products are: dairy farming and processing, and rice. There are steel, chemical, and engineering industries in Brescia, textile and engineering works in Bergamo, silk and furniture making in Brianza, petrochemicals and plastics in Mantova and important universities in Milano and Pavia. Milano is considered the economic centre of Italy.
Lombardia also has a long artistic history. Leonardo da Vinci lived in Milano and painted many masterpieces there, including The Last Supper (or Cenacolo, as it is called in Italian). It can be visited by appointment.
What to See
Milano is known for its luxury shopping in the Quadrilatero della Moda (a shopping district bordered by Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga), high-end restaurants, monuments and artworks. See the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Castello Sforzesco art museums, go to the opera at the Teatro alla Scala, and admire the view over the city from the roof of the Duomo, one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world. With hot, humid summers and cold, foggy winters, it’s best to visit Milano in spring or autumn.
The lake district (Lago Maggiore (Lake Maggiore) and Lago di Como (Lake Como)) is set in the foothills of the Alps. The large bodies of water create a unique microclimate with almost Mediterranean vegetation along the shores, and some of the country’s most beautiful villas and scenery. As a result, olive trees can be cultivated for their oil along the shores of Lago di Garda (Lake Garda), much farther north than any other areas. Ferry boats run between the small lakeside towns and islands. On Lago Maggiore, don’t miss Stresa (you can take a boat from there to the beautiful Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands), particularly the palace on Isola Bella), Pallanza and Arona –all are located in neighbouring Piemonte. On Lago di Como, visit Bellagio. On Lago di Garda, see Desenzano, Sirmione and Salò.
There are many wonderful towns in Lombardia to visit for their architecture and history. Bergamo Alta offers wonderful views over the plains from its noble palazzi (palaces). Mantova was home to the mighty Gonzaga family and to Isabelle d’Este. It is a cultural centre and UNESCO World Patrimony site, along with nearby Sabbioneta. Cremona’s Duomo and the clock of the Torrazzo (bell tower) are worth a visit. Pavia’s Certosa monastery, built in the 14th and 15th centuries, is also impressive.
Other villages worth visiting are Castellaro Lagusello (a fortified village, known for its salami, overlooking a lake), Monte Isola (known as the “Capri of the north”, it can only be reached by boat and is known for olive oil and salami production), San Benedetto Po (a village with a monastery which is known for breads and pastries), Tremezzo (a lakeside stone village known for its exotic gardens and historic 18th century villas; the village produces missoltino (preserved agone / freshwater sardines)), and Tremosine (a clifftop town overlooking Lago di Garda which produces formaggella di Tremosine cheese).
Things to bring home include bresaola, cheese, panettone, Amaretti di Saronno (almond cookies), mostarda (mustard), torrone (honey nougat with almonds), Alessi products, kitchenware from Medagliani, silverware from Sabattini Argenteria, tableware, and designer clothes, shoes, and bags.
Places to Visit:
Pasticceria MarchesiVia Santa Maria alla Porta, 11/a 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02 876 730
A traditional pastry shop and bar with beautiful cakes and chocolates. A great place to try panettone.
Gastronomia PeckVia Spadari, 9 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.028 023 161
One of the world’s greatest food shops, with meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, salami, wines, pasta, cakes, candies…everything edible! Some items may be shipped to China via their website-order online.
MedaglianiVia Privata Oslavia, 17 20134 Milano
Tel. +39.024 548 5571
A huge kitchen and housewares supply store with handmade pots, spoons, knives, pans, roasters, appliances, etc.
AlessiVia Manzoni, 14/16 20121 Milano
Tel: +39 027 95726
My favourite household design brand. Milan has the flagship store but there are outlets in Hong Kong, Dalian, and Beijing.
Unlike other regions, there is no single iconic ingredient which makes one think of Lombardia, although cheeses and rice are mainstays of local production. In general, risotto and polenta are as popular here as pasta, and butter is used more often than olive oil in cooking. Carnaroli and Vialone Nano rice are popular in Lombardia. Lombardians are great lovers of dairy foods and often finish their meals with cheese and they also are partial to cream. Cheese-making is an important industry along the Po valley and throughout the region, with cheeses such as Grana Padano DOP, Gorgonzola DOP, Bitto DOP, Taleggio DOP being produced here, to name but a few. As for meat products, Bresaola della Valtellina IGP is made from beef in the mountainous area to the region’s north. As in every other Italian region, pork salumi are always popular and are made into hams and sausages throughout the area: Salame Milano is made with a mix of pork and beef.
Pasta here tends to be fresh, egg, pasta and is often stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach. Mantova’s famous tortelli di zucca are filled with a mix of pumpkin, spices and crushed amaretti (almond cookies). Polenta is made from local ground maize (mais) or buckwheat (grano saraceno). Freshwater fish from the lakes are increasingly farmed and served broiled, marinated, or fried in breadcrumbs.
Other classic ingredients here are pork, pumpkin, frogs, game birds, goose, fresh water fish (chub, sturgeon, trout, bleak, catfish, salmon, eel, whitefish, perch, shad, tench, pike, and grayling), mostarda , honey, olive oil, cheeses, salami, grains (corn, buckwheat, and rice), apples, pears, quinces, asparagus, yellow onions, cabbage, black and white truffles.
No single dish is considered quintessentially Lombardian fare, except perhaps risotto alla milanese (risotto with saffron), but that is most popular in Milano itself. The area’s infamous autumn and winter fogs kept each town to itself and there is a custom in Lombardia for each town and village to cook its own particular version of classic recipes. Having said that, the region is of course not without its special dishes. Risotto is produced in many forms; the costoletta alla milanese is a pan-fried breaded veal chop that is popular throughout Italy (it’s often served with a wedge of lemon on top); ossobuco is another classic winter meat dish made from sliced beef shanks and served with its bone marrow – it can be paired with risotto; cassoeula is a winter stew of mixed meats and cabbage; potato gnocchi are also Lombardian favourites, served with melted cheese or truffles. See Lombardian recipes here.
Lombardians are said to be impatient diners as they have little time off work for lunch. However they do like to take time for an evening aperitivo before dinner. Milano’s bars are famous for their generous and artistic displays of nibbles – from chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to raw vegetables, sliced salami and little crostini – to accompany a glass of sparkling Prosecco or Franciacorta – both produced within the region. Many bars in the region also serve quick and inexpensive lunch dishes, from a wide selection of panini (grilled sandwiches) to single dishes of pasta or salads.
Soups and warming pastas are popular in cold weather, just as cooling salads are in summer; when there’s time, a full cheese course can run the range from delicate, freshly made crescenza to the piquant blue notes of an aged Gorgonzola DOP. The area’s most famous dessert is panettone, a high, domed sweet yeast bread that is studded with raisins and candied peel. It is served around Christmas and has become popular throughout the world.
Traditional dishes I recommend include bresaola (air-dried beef); agnolini (fresh stuffed pasta); asparagi alla milanese (asparagus topped with a fried egg and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese); minestrone alla milanese (soup with green vegetables, rice, and bacon); pizzoccheri (buckwheat noodles with cabbage and cheese); Grana Padano, crescenza and taleggio cheeses; torrone (nougat); torta di tagliatelle (a pasta cake with almonds and cocoa); and torta sbrisolona (a flat, crumbly cake made with cornmeal and hazelnuts). See recipes here.
The wine to drink from this region is sparkling Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to France’s champagne. Fine Franciacorta will be labelled riserva or vintage. Buy from producers such as Barone Pizzini, Bellavista, Ca’ del Bosco, Fratelli Berlucchi, La Montina, Il Mosnel, and Ronco Calino. My favourites are Ca’ del Bosco and Il Mosnel. Some nice red wines are produced in Lombardia in Valtellina Superiore DOCG and Oltrepo Pavese DOC. Look for producers such as Ar Pe Pe, Sandro Fay, Nino Negri, and Triacca. There is also a sweet wine made in Valtellina called Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG.
More relevant articles:
- Ideas for a visit to Lake Como
- A visit to Franciacorta
- Mantova and the farmlands around Solferino and Castiglione di Stievere
- A visit to Lake Garda
- Cellar visit: Ca’ del Bosco
- Cellar visit: La Montina
What to Eat
A list of typical Lombardian dishes (the most classic dishes are written in bold):
Salumi (Cold Cuts)
Many of the salumi are named after their place of origin and have been made since ancient times.
Cacciatorino di cavallo (horse salami)
Coppa mantovana (cured, dried, aged pork)
Culaccia / Culatello (a prime part of the prosciutto, sometimes served with mostarda)
Mantovano (salted meat, served cold)
Salame Milano (pork and beef salami with white wine and spices, sometimes with garlic or pig’s blood)
Salame d’oca ecumenico (raw goose salami)
Salame d’oca di Mortara PGI (boiled goose, pork and pancetta salami, cured with herbs)
Salame di manzo (beef salami from Brescia)
Salame di Varzi (coarse-grained pork sausage)
Slinzega (cured, dried horse or beef, left over from making bresaola)
Sopressata bresciana (spicy cured pork shoulder)
Violino (cured shoulder or leg of goat or mutton flavoured with garlic and juniper berries, sometimes red wine)
Frittata cun le urtis (omelette with thin asparagus tips)
Frittata en carpion (omelette in white wine vinegar)
Frittata rugnusa (omelette with luganiga sausage)
Luccio in salsa (pike layered with olive oil, vinegar, capers, garlic, parsley and anchovies, served with potato puree)
Mondeghili (fried boiled breaded meatballs made from beef, egg, and Grana Padano cheese)
Nervetti in insalata (calf’s tendon salad with spring onion, vinegar, parsley, and olive oil)
Sciatt / Frittelle della Valtellina (buckwheat fritters filled with cheese)
Primi (First Courses)
Bigoli con le sardelle / Bigoi (thick fresh spaghetti with sardines)
Bomba di riso (rice timbale with pigeon, porcini mushrooms, giblets, and truffle)
Casonsei de la bergamasca / Casoncelli (stuffed pasta with salami, eggs, Grana Padano cheese, breadcrumbs, amaretti (almond biscuits), raisins, pears, lemon zest, garlic, and parsley, served with butter, sage, and pancetta)
Crema di asparagi alla milanese (cream of asparagus soup, served with croutons)
Malfatti (spinach and ricotta or mascarpone cheese dumplings, served with melted butter)
Marubini (stuffed pasta with beef, sausage, eggs, breadcrumbs, Grana Padano cheese, and nutmeg, served in meat broth)
Minestra mariconda (bread dumplings in meat broth)
Minestrone alla milanese (soup made with tomatoes, peas, beans, rice, pancetta, garlic, herbs, potatoes, zucchini, cabbage, celery, and carrots, sometimes with pork rind)
Minestrone con la zucca (pumpkin and vegetable soup with short pasta, may be served with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Minestrone di Primavera (soup of baby poppy leaves, wild chicory, and rape, leeks and rice)
Pantrid Maridàa / Panada / Minestra di Pan Grattato (bread or breadcrumbs and egg drop soup)
Polenta con le verdure (polenta cake with bacon, carrot, celery, cabbage, beans, and onion)
Raviolini di carne in brodo (small stuffed pasta with beef, chicken, or turkey, cheese, and eggs, served in a meat broth with grated cheese, sometimes with a dash of red wine)
Ris e corada / Riso con coratella / Riso con polmone (risotto with leeks, pancetta, sage, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and veal lung)
Ris e ran / Riso con le rane (risotto with frog legs)
Ris e spargitt (rice and asparagus soup with butter and Grana Padano cheese)
Riso alla lombarda (risotto with butter, egg yolks, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Riso al salto (fried risotto cake)
Riso e zucca (rice with pumpkin, onion, and beef broth, dressed with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Riso in cagnon (risotto boiled in water, served with garlic sage butter and Grana Padano cheese)
Risotto alla certosina (risotto with freshwater crayfish, frogs, sole fillets, or perch, peas, tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, herbs, and mushrooms)
Risotto alla mantovana (risotto with sausage and onions)
Risotto alla Valtellinese / Riso alla Valtellinese (risotto with beans and Savoy cabbage, served with sage butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Risotto con fiore di zucca (risotto with zucchini flowers)
Tagliatelle con stracotto d’asino (tagliatelle with stewed donkey)
Zuppa pavese (broth with poached egg on toast sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Secondi (Main Courses)
Anguilla in umido (stewed eel with oil, onion, garlic, tomato, and white wine, served with toasted bread)
Arrosto di maiale al latte (roast pork dish with milk)
Asparagi al burro (asparagus with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Asparagi alla milanese (asparagus boiled and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and an egg fried in butter)
Bollito di manzo (boiled beef tail and rump with veal head served with mostarda and salsa verde)
Buseca / Busecca / Zuppa di trippa alla milanese (Milanese veal or beef tripe soup flavoured with lardo, sage or bay leaf, carrots, and celery served over toasted bread with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
Cassoeula / Cassoeula / Cazzoeula (a casserole of pork sausage, ribs, head, ear, and feet with Savoy cabbage served with polenta, sometimes with goose)
Coregone alla griglia (grilled European whitefish)
Cotechino with mostarda (boiled pork sausage with a sweet spiced fruit mustard)
Foiolo alla milanese / Fojoeu (tripe cooked in butter and onions served with grated cheese)
Frittata di riso (baked omelette with rice cooked in milk, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and whipped egg whites)
Oca farcita / Oca ripiena (goose stuffed with pancetta or sausages, boiled or roasted chestnuts, and goose liver and cooked in white wine or broth)
Osso buco alla milanese (veal shank braised with broth, tomato, onions, and butter served with gremolata (chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic) and risotto milanese, risotto bianco, or potato purée)
Polenta alla bergamasca (polenta baked with sausage, tomato sauce, and cheese)
Polenta e osei / Polenta e uccellini (polenta with small game birds, butter, and sage- this dish is illegal but said to be found in secret)
Polenta taragna (buckwheat polenta with butter and cheese, served with sausage)
Stracotta d’asino con polenta (stewed donkey served with polenta)
Tacchina ripiena (turkey stuffed with chestnuts, apples, pears, prunes, minced veal, pancetta, walnuts, brandy, and herbs, served at Christmas)
Trippa in umido (beef or veal stomach and upper small intestines cooked with aromatics)
Contorni (Side Dishes)
Cavolfiore al burro (cauliflower with butter)
Funghi trifolati (porcini mushrooms cooked with parsley and garlic)
Zucca fritta (pumpkin slices boiled in milk, breaded, and fried in butter)
Amaretti di Saronno (almond cookies)
Busecchina (a chestnut, fennel, and white wine cake served with cream)
Colomba pasquale (a dove shaped yeasted cake with candied citrus zest, glazed with sugar and almond icing, eaten for Easter)
Crema di mascarpone (whipped mascarpone cream with marsala wine or liqueur, served with dry biscuits)
Fave dei morti (almond cookies which may be flavoured with cinnamon, grappa, pine nuts, or lemon)
Frittelle di riso (rice fritters flavoured with amaretti biscuits, raisins, and dried fruit)
Meneghina (light panettone sponge served warm and filled with orange flavoured pastry cream or served with gelato)
Oss de mord / Ossa da mordere (crunchy, crumbly almond biscuits flavoured with marsala wine, cloves, and cinnamon, served with vin santo or moscato wines)
Pan meino / Pandemeinn / Pan de mej / Man de mej / Meini (cornmeal yeasted buns with elder flours, eaten with panera (a lightly whipped cream), eaten on the day of San Giorgio)
Panettone (a tall yeasted cake with raisins, candied citron, orange, and eggs, eaten at Christmas)
Polenta e osei (chocolate and orange flavoured sponge cake covered with almond paste, and decorated to resemble a bowl of polenta topped with little almond paste birds and cocoa powder)
Rosumada / Rossumata (red wine with eggs and sugar or water or milk with egg whites and sugar)
Torrone (honey nougat with almonds and vanilla, although there are many varieties including hazelnuts, lemon, chocolate, pistachio, and candied orange and citron)
Torta donizetti (a ring shaped cake flavoured with candied apricot and dried pineapple)
Torta di tagliatelle / Torta ricciolina (a crunchy egg pasta cake on a short crust disk, topped with almonds, candied lime and orange, Sassolino liqueur, sugar, and butter and dusted with vanilla sugar, may have amaretti almond biscuits)
Torta paradiso (lemon sponge cake, served with tea or dunked in wine)
Turtei (pasta made from pastry and filled with candied citron, dark macaroons, raisins, grated cheese, nutmeg, and spice cookies)
Crescenza (a fresh, buttery, cow’s milk cheese from the Po Valley, named from the Latin word carsenza which means “flatbread” because it rises like bread dough when warmed, there are summer (firm) and winter (soft and creamy) varieties) – I love it
Fontal (an elastic, mild, semi-hard, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the flatlands of Lombardia, the name is a combination of fontina and emmental)
Gorgonzola DOP (a popular creamy blue cow’s milk cheese which ranges from mild to assertive, there is a limited production naturally fermented variety labelled a fermentazione naturale / del nonno / antico which as more marbling, is more crumbly, and is tangier in flavour, produced in both Piemonte and Lombardia)
Grana Padano DOP (a nutty, grainy hard cow’s milk cheese similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP from Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte, Trentino, and Veneto, it is marked with the Grana Padano Consortium mark and only Grana Padano produced in Trento may bear its place of origin; when the cows are fed on dried fodder in the winter, the cheese is also called Vernengo)
Mascarpone (a fresh, rich, sweet, creamy cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia, used as an ingredient in cooking and desserts or served as is sprinkled with sugar and cocoa)
Provolone Valpadana DOP (a firm cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna which can be mild and buttery or piquant or smoked)
Quartirolo (a mild, soft, smooth, cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia, similar to a fresh taleggio)
Stracchino (a smooth, soft, sweet, aromatic cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia, the most prized varieties are Stracchino della Valle dei Campelli and Stracchino di Nesso, the name comes from the word “stracca” which means tired, either referring to the cows or their milk)
Taleggio DOP (a smooth, soft, mild, buttery, slightly sour cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia and Piemonte and dating from the 10th century, taleggio from Valsassina is highly sought after) – I love it
Valtellina Casera DOP (a medium fat, Bruna Alpina cow’s milk cheese with a thin rind from Sondrio, a type of bitto)
Campari orange (Campari or Fernet mixed with orange juice)
Campari shakerato (Campari or Fernet shaken with ice)
Campari soda (Campari mixed with soda water)
Rabarbaro Zucca shakerato con poca vaniglia (rhubarb liqueur shaken with ice and vanilla)
Di Saronno (liqueur made using apricot kernels)