Overseas tourists visiting Italy for the first time might assume that the country is all about spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parm, pizza, gelato, wines, and seafood. But the truth is that there is a lot more to food in Italy. In fact, traditional Italian food can vary greatly depending on where you travel. Each region of the country has distinct culinary traditions, including in Northern Italy.
Northern Italian food is more dairy-based, as opposed to the coastal regions where the influence of seafood is strong. Dairy products like cream, milk, butter, and cheeses are used as the land here is flatter, and thus best suited for raising cattle. People here can afford more expensive ingredients as this region is more affluent than other parts of Italy. You will find creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola and Mascarpone from Lombardy, Taleggio from Veneto, and Valle d’Aosta’s Fontina. Around Bologna, you will find Parmigiano-Reggiano and homemade egg pasta. Many people believe that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the best cheese available in the country. Northern Italy is known for its cured meats and sausages, as well as Prosciutto di Parma.
Another cuisine trends seen in this part of the country include very little use of pasta, tomato sauce, and olive oil. The people tend to prefer rice, corn, creamy sauces, and butter. There are some exceptions though. For instance, people around the lakes and those in Liguria do use some olive oils in their foods. Pasta is consumed as well, but not anything like that of southern Italy. Pasta has serious competition up in the north with polenta and risotto–dishes that keep people warm in the cold winter months.
The main course in northern Italy usually includes wild fowl or game like grouse, quail, or rabbit. Fish is popular up in the north as well, but particularly along the coast. Streams, rivers, and, of course, the lakes provide trout and carp.
If you are in Milan, try Valtellina Superiore, which is made from nebbiolo grapes. These grapes are less tannic and acidic. Panettone is a famous dessert from Milan–a cake made with candied citrus inside. This delicious cake is served with Franciacorta wine.
Trentino-Alto Aldige was once a part of Austria, so there is a distinct Austrian influence in the food here. This region is famous for its cured ham. Try the bread dumplings that at times go with goulash, which is a meat stew. Apples are plentiful here, and not surprisingly, make it into their foods as well.