Drive Through North Italy: A Road Trip Devoted to Food

It is not that hard to decipher an Italian’s origin; take a look at their spread and you would know readily from which of the 20 Italian regions he/she hails from. Italian cuisine is extremely and distinctly regional. Even within the region, you can see subtleties and variations reflecting personal nuances that are influences of geography, from the mountains stretching across the north to the coasts in the islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

North Italy is surrounded by mountains, sea and dotted by lakes, so that its cuisine has an abundance of ingredients coming from all sources. Thus, the region features hearty, meaty (quail, rabbit or grouse) cuisine as well as delicate fish and other seafood.

italian foodDespite the borders that Alp and Dolomite mountain ranges impose, these are quite fluid allowing the French and Hapsburg empire culinary influences to seep through. This makes the northern cuisine more dairy- and butter-based than olive (except for the well-sought olive oils of Liguria) and uses less tomato sauce. It is heavily reliant on rosemary and sage, and cheeses for cream sauces. The people here also love pasta (all Italians do), but they like it mixed with risotto, gnocchi and polenta.

The Quest for Authentic North Italy Cuisine

The Italians from the north takes pride of their food, even worship it like a religion. Here you have to forget about regulars like boring salads. Get used to cured meats, excellent cheeses, the best reds, whites and dessert wines, and sparkling dry Lambrusco. Thus, if you’re going to indulge on a food trip, North Italy is among the best places to go. Laurel Delp guides you through Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region in her articlearticle “Mangia!” We Ate and Drank Our Way Through Northern Italy  posted at Yahoo! – Travel Section.

“I hit the road with Romagnoli chef Gino Angelini and his wife, Elizabeth. To say Gino’s the best Italian chef in Los Angeles is kind of selling him short; he’s a chef’s chef.

We met at the Hotel Leon d’Oro in the beautiful medieval town of Castell’Arquato in Emilia’s northwest province Piacenza, tucked between the Apennine Mountains and the River Po. It was the perfect start to a journey that would take us southwest across the region, ending in Rimini, Gino’s home turf on the Adriatic coast.” 

This was where Delp’s quest began.

“Our mission was simple: sample the region’s legendary artisanal products that have the denominazione di origine protetta designation. These products can be made only in certain geographical areas, using local produce and traditional methods. They are fiercely regulated.”

In Emilia, Delp discovered, olive is not as big as butter, and Béchamel, a sauce made from roux (butter and flour), milk/cream and herbs, is big. She discovered too that meals here start with a “platter of local salumi,” cheese and piadina, a kind of flat bread from Romagna. Salumi or salami means cured meats that include mortadella, prosciutto, coppa or culatello. In Italian, the name is used to refer to meat preservation – salting, air drying and smoking. It is a traditional technique staple to Italian cooking that started over 2000 years ago.

Delp, Chef Gino and his wife had the “salumi platter” at La Stoppa, an excellent winery and proceeded to de Faccini to get their high from a dinner of guinea fowl roasted in clay washed down with a green walnut-infused liqueur called “nocino.”

Other Regional Specialties from the North 

If Delp and company went on, they would have discovered other specialties that North Italy is known for. Read about it in the post “Italian Regional Food: The North” posted in Life in Italy.

  • Val d’Aosta: This place is known for its fontina cheese used in local dishes like Cotoletta alla Valdostana, veal chop with fontina and ham, and Capriolo alla Valdostana, venison stew cooked with vegetables, wine and grappa. The place is also famous for its white wines (Bianco and the Blanc de Morgex), red wines (Reds Donnas, Chambave Rosso and Nus Rosso), and the dessert wine Nus-Malvoisie Fletri and Grappa.
  • Piemonte: This is home to Grissini, thin and crispy breadsticks; fine cheeses (tuma, robiola, and tumin); and fonduta, a dip made from melted cheese, milk, eggs and tartufi bianchi or white truffles. Piemonte also takes pride in its specialties such as Cardi alla Bagna Cauda and Vitello Tonnato, as well as porcini mushrooms and white truffles, two types of prized wild mushrooms. The place is also renowned for its Asti white wines (Asti Spumante and Moscato) and full-bodied reds (Barolo, Barberesco, Barbera and Dolcetto).
  • Lombardia: This region is the cradle for rice dishes – Risotto alla Milanese and Minestrone alla Milanese. Other local specializations are quails with polenta, ravioli with a pumpkin filling, and Ossso buco. The cheeses here are excellent and include the Grana Padano, the creamy Crescenza, the alpine Bitto, the rich blue Gorgonzola, and Mascarpone. Wines come from Valtellina area, the Valtellina Superiore, a well-aged red and Lombardy’s best. Its sparkling white wine comes from Franciacorta that’s made in the tradition of France , but with Italian character.
  • Veneto: The signature character of the meals here is the fusion of rice and polenta with mushrooms, seafood and fowl. The region is also known for its traditional dishes such as Fegato alla and Veneziana Risi e Bisi. Its cuisine is hearty and exotic with ingredients of wild game from the marshes of the Venetian Lagoon. Other specialties include Radicchio di Treviso, Asparagi di Bassano, Asiago, and The popular reds at Veneto are among Italy’s best that includes Bardolino and Valpolicella and Bardolino, while the whites include Vigne Alete, Soave, Bianco di Custoza, and
  • Trentino-Alto Adige: Cuisine in this region has some German influences reflected in Canederli, a bread served in broth like a gnocchi or dumpling. Polenta is a staple here served or cooked with river trout, wild fowl and sauerkraut. Its salumi is called “speck,” almost similar to prosciutto, but smoked. Its cheeses are excellent – Spressa delle Giudicarie (DOP), Tosela and Puzzone do Moena. Enjoy the fruity red Teroldego or the full-bodied Marzemino, or its outstanding white counterparts – Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Nosiola, and the Spumante Talenteo Trento. A sweet dessert wine you’d like to try is Vin Santo.
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia: The region is best known for its polenta, Prosciutto di San Daniele, and Montasio cheese. The cuisine in the region has German/Slavic influences as well – Jota, Porcina, Slavic Goulash and dumplings, Boreto Graesano, Apple Strudel, Cuguluf and Gubana. Wines from this region are well sought. Reds are great – Schiopettino and Refoscp dal Peduncolo – but whites are excellent Malvasia Istriana, Tocai, and Ribolla Gialla. Equally popular are Picolit, a white wine that goes with dessert and Vitoska, a white wine aperitivo.
  • Liguria: The region is synonymous to Basil Pesto sauce and it is rearded a culinary genius when served with Trenette (favored in Genoa) or Trofie (favored in Cinque Terre). Its special offerings are Zuppa di Datteri, shellfish soup cooked and served in the port of La Spezia. Other dishes you got to try are the rabbit Stew (Coniglio in Umido) and Vea Rolls or (Tomaselle). Cap your meal with Ligurian desserts include Pandolce Genovese or a serving of sweet pizzas made with chestnuts, walnuts and candied fruit. Choose from the reds in Liguria – Ormeasco or Rossese di Dolceacqua. Whites are prefect for seafood dishes and include Cinque Terre, Colline di Levanto and Sciacchetrà. While here, try other well-known spirits such as Grappa. Nocino, Limoncello Ligure, and the dessert wine Sciacchetrà Rosso

Food (and eating) in North Italy is almost like a religion because it is a way of life. When you decide you want to hit the road, anywhere you go in Italy is fine, but a great drive through is always North Italy.

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