Ten Million Inhabitants
Let’s start with the numbers: 16, 18, 21. These tell us that 16% of the Italian population lives in the Lombardia region, making it the most populated region in Italy. Lombardia makes up 18% of the Italian territory, it is therefore a region densely populated. The portion of the GDP is 21% of the gross national product, making Lombardia the wealthiest region in Italy.
A quite tired assumption, probably rising from the immigration from the southern part of Italy during the economic boom of the early 60s, is that Lombardia, and Milan in particular, are not beautiful. Factories, chimneys, factories, steel, cement and more factories.
Nothing could be further from the truth – Lombardia is beautiful and rich in it’s varied beauty. It does not have the sea, but it does have hills, lakes, mountains, and plains. It offers the raw materials from farming which has influenced a gastronomic tradition of noble lineage. A case in point is the impressive Lombardian cheese-making tradition — the Valtellina Casera and the Bitto, the Formai di Mut, the Quartirolo, the Taleggio, the Grana Padano and the Gorgonzola are among the most famous cheeses in the world.
Every one of these cheeses is adorned with a DOP. Bitto is an absolute classic cheese for contemplation. The Valtellina Casera, with a flavor both delicate and decisive, is a fundamental ingredient in the preparation of pizzoccheri, buckwheat flour pasta. And, as we are here in Valtellina, how can we resist the great wine that it offers?!? I speak of the Sufersàt. The Sufersàt is obtained with a process of extra-maturation of the grapes. During the harvest, the grapes are carefully selected, the best bunches are hand-picked and rest in single layers in crates. After being cleaned, they are then laid out on a grid for about 4 months in a well-aired place.
The Valtellina is also the homeland of the Bresaola IGP, cured and aged beef. Dining treats other than the pizzoccheri include Risotto with Bresaola and Bitto.
Sadly, we must leave Valtellina to enjoy the region of Pavia. Pavia is a gracious city stretched beside the Ticino river, proud of its cathedral and its famous Certosa and ancient University. From Pavia we go south and cross over the Apennines arriving in the Staffora Valley. At the heart of the Staffora Valley is Varzi, famous for its salami with just the right dose of ingredients for its typical character. The full flavor is aromatic and oh, so tasty.
Continuing our discussion of salami we move now to the center of Lomellina and town of Mortasa. When autumn approaches the salami makers begin the Mortasa Duck salami, made from one part duck and two parts pork. The Lomallina is also the land of rice. The Lombards had confidence in rice and as a consequence one of their best culinary preperations is risotto.
Every corner of Lombardia has its own risotto interpretation; the Gorgonzola risotto with a touch of pear, Milano’s Risotto alla Milanese with its unmistakable yellow from saffron.
Moving up the Lomellina we turn towards Brescia. The territory of Brescia is extremely varied with its lakes (Idro, Iseo, Garda) its three valleys (Valcamonica, Valsabbia, Valtrompia), and its Franciacorta. The Valcamonica allows exceptional contact with ancient history in its stone carvings. The Franciacorta is also an excellent, if under appreciated, wine territory.