Pasta in the north is by no means non-existent, but it tends to be replaced by delicious risottos and polenta and the main courses here often reflect the luxury of having a well-preserved countryside where game, rabbit and wild fowl are sourced. Seafood and shellfish are very popular on the coasts and in areas close to rivers and streams where you will see carp and trout appearing regularly on the menu. As ever the rule being if you find it in the region, it will frequently appear on your plate.
Bordering France and Switzerland, the North West of Italy
naturally has a number of influences from these countries rather than the Mediterranean, as might be expected. The regions of Piedmonte
, Val d’Aosta and Lombardy
roughly make up the north western part of the country, and the area’s rich diet and higher standards of living compared to that of the south, is due to its close proximity to the major European trade routes. This perceived prosperity manifests itself in the food, which is characterized by less use of olive oil, pasta and tomato sauce and more use of butter (or lard ), rice, corn (for polenta) and cheeses for cream sauces.
The region of Val d'Aosta, perched precariously at the foot of the rocky crags of the Alps, has a pretty heavy diet. It is perhaps most famous for its Fontina cheese which is used in local specialties like the rather fattening Costoletta alla Valdostana - a veal chop covered in cheese. Another rich dish that is well-known locally, is the Capriolo alla Valdostana and its a hearty venison stew made with wine, vegetables and grappa.
The wine from this region is not often seen outside of Italy and they tend to have quite a high acidity given the altitude of the vineyards and the richness of the food. These include Donnas, Chambave Rosso and Nus Rosso in the reds and, for the whites, a crisp, light Bianco and the Blanc de Morgex all of which have their own DOC classification. The region also produces some lovely sweet wines called Nus-Malvoisie Fletri as well as some great Grappas.
Piemonte is perhaps the most famous region in this area of Italy and has a number of dishes and wines that have been widely exported around the world. The region is the home of Grissini, the thin, crispy bread sticks that no self-respecting Trattoria would be without and Vitello Tonnato, another menu favourite.
Perhaps more interestingly it is also home to Porcini mushroom and whites truffles, ingredients so apparent in the risotto and pasta dishes you can enjoy there.
Another popular dish is fonduta, a melted cheese dip of milk, eggs and white truffles (tartufi bianchi) which sit alongside fine cheeses (Robiola, Caprini and Tumin, a white mountain cheese soaked in red peppers) and Cardi alla Bagna Cauda which is made from chard served with hot sauce, anchovies, garlic and white truffles.
Where wine is concerned Piemonte produces Asti white wines made from the slightly, sweet fragrant grape Moscato and the 70’s, sparkling Asti Spumante. Its perhaps though the reds that give more of an idea of what the region is capable of in vinous terms - Barolo being its most famous product. Made from the Nebbiolo grape this wine is full-bodied and bursting with fruit when young and capable of long ageing in oak. Other reds include Barbera and Dolcetto made from the Barbera variety which makes lighter, fruitier reds that complement the local cuisine well.
The third region that links north western and north eastern Italy is Lombardy - an area famed for its rice dishes including Minestrone alla Milanese, made with vegetables, rice and bacon and the Risotto alla Milanese is a creamy dish of braised short-grain rice blended with meat stock, saffron and cheese.
Other favourites include ravioli with a pumpkin filling from Montova, small quails with polenta from Bergamo. Osso bucco is a traditional main course of a knuckle of veal with the marrowbone intact and braised with rosemary and sage.
Cheese here is king, Lombardy is the place where the deliciously, rich blue Gorgonzola is made alongside Grana Padana, a rival of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the creamy, rich Mascarpone.
Much like in Val d’Aosta the wines from Lonbardy are not often seen outside the country but it is known for producing some, such as Valtellina Superiore from the Nebbiolo grape made in the Valtellina valley. It’s most well-known product however are its sparkling wines, made in and around Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese which are made via the Champagne method from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio.
To view our wines from Italy click here. To read more about the North West of Italy click here.