Between cities of world renown are breathtaking landscapes of river plains, lakes and mountains and a significant amount of agriculture. In the south, around Mantova and Cremona, is the ‘white belt’ of Lombardy, where rice, butter and cheese prevail. Heading north towards Milan, Brescia and Bergamo, the microclimate of the lakes allows olives and citrus fruit to thrive, and in Franciacorta is where you’ll find Italy’s best sparkling wine. Further north, the Valtellina valley is home to Alpine Nebbiolo wines and the hyper-local bresaola, an air-dried, salted beef.
When it comes to Lombard staples, think bollito misto (stew), cassoeula (pork and cabbage stew) and the world-famous risotto. For dessert, there’s sbrisolona, a crunchy almond cake synonymous with Mantua. Other big hitters from the region include mostarda (candied fruit syrup) and torrone (nougat), both from Cremona. For the turophile, there’s plenty of gorgonzola, grana padano and taleggio.
To better understand what makes the cuisine so irresistible, let’s meet some of the people behind the dishes and ingredients.
Enrico ‘Chicco’ and Roberto ‘Bobo’ Cerea
DA VITTORIO, BERGAMO Chicco and Bobo Cerea are the brothers behind Da Vittorio, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Brusaporto, near Bergamo. Situated on beautiful grounds, the menu here consists of elevated and complex dishes, and the most frequently cited showstopper is a tomato and cheese pasta. Bobo says Chicco is better at theatrical “show cooking”, so chances are he’ll be the one mixing and dishing up for you. For all the pizzazz of fine dining, the duo insist that “simplicity is buonissima” and fondly remember guanciale and polenta from their childhoods. If you do eat here, be sure to save room for something from the beautiful bonbon trolley. davittorio.com
OSTERIA DELLA VILLETTA, BRESCIA Grazia runs her brigade by cooking time-consuming, traditional dishes such as tripe, bollito and stoccafi sso. She became a chef accidentally while working as a teacher, by occasionally assisting her mother-in-law in the kitchen. She’s rolled many cabbage involtini since then, determined to “preserve this way of cooking and socialising together”. Her approach is working. Even the great Alain Ducasse declared: “The food you eat here tells you that you can be nowhere else.” And the deified Gualtiero Marchesi was such a big fan of the polpette he counted Osteria della Villetta as one of his top 11 places in the world to eat. osteriadellavilletta.it
LOCANDA DELLE GRAZIE, MANTUA Fernando is a bundle of energy who runs a casual restaurant close to Mantua. In fact, he runs a lot, from his morning coffee to the fruit and veg market, from the local fishermen back to his kitchen to catch up with his wife, Daniela, who looks after front of house at their restaurant as well as their B&B. This is the kind of place where customers return time and time again for the homemade tagliatelle all’anatra (pasta with duck) or risotto alla pilota, traditionally made by rice millers, which Fernando loves so much, he “would even eat for breakfast”. When not cooking, he readily moves to the dining room, happily remembering, “I started offwaiting tables.” facebook.com/locanda.dellegrazie
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