[ January 24, 2005 ]
| Lombardia –
Emilia-Romagna – Veneto
Sublime triptych in Northern Italy
The spotlight is on the Po Plain, also called Padania, the biggest,
richest and most fertile plain in Italy. Home to the Po, the country’s
largest river, it covers the southern parts of the Piemonte, Lombardia and
Veneto regions, and the northern part of the Emilia-Romagna region. While
the Padania plain constitutes a specific geographic, cultural and gastronomic
area, the regions it encompasses are also distinct, and have developed charming
particularities—all of their own—over time.
Lombardia: a taste of Europe!
|Lombardia Fact Sheet
Located south of Switzerland, east of the Piemonte region, and west
of the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige regions
Region’s capital: Milan
Population: nearly 9 million
Provinces: Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Mantova,
Milano, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese
mere mention of Lombardia brings images of Milan to mind, imposing and gourmet,
baroque and cultivated! Italian capital of fashion, luxury goods and industrial
design, Milan boasts renowned international talents such as Armani, Gianfranco
Ferre’, Prada, Krizia, etc. and is home to a multitude of well-known
products, among them B&B, Kartell, Cassina and fashion label Artemide.
Cradle of the Alfa Romeo automotive legend, Milan is also a hotbed of culture,
welcoming famous opera stars to the legendary La Scala, and an
architectural treasure trove, charming enthusiasts with the likes of its
magnificent piazza or gothic Duomo.
Milan is also the capital of the Lombardia region. Italy’s most populous
region, it was the country’s first commercial and industrial zone,
and remains highly urbanized and open to Europe. Industry is predominant,
with around 30% of Italy’s resources in this sector concentrated in
the area! Key sectors include the textile and silk industries, along with
metallurgy and chemistry.
When speaking gastronomy, we cannot forget that the Alps region and the
Lombardian Padania are prime breeding regions, with the area producing nearly
half of the country’s entire milk yield. It therefore comes as no
surprise that the region has mastered cheese production techniques, offering
up products such as Gorgonzola, Provolone Valpadana, Taleggio, Quartirolo,
and Bitto … milky delights accompanying or savoured after dishes such
as risotto and polenta which, in this corner of Italy, are nearly as popular
as pasta! Regional specialties include saffron risotto (risotto alla milanese),
served with the traditional ossobuco. Another regional particularity: an
affinity for butter, at times used instead of olive oil, undoubtedly indicative
of the Austrian influence on the region.
Despite not bordering any open water, the region extends over the large
Po Plain, and includes some of Italy’s most famous lakes: Lake Como,
Lake Maggiore and of course, Lake Garde, on the western borders of which
some of the country’s most splendid olive oil is produced. Simply
Veneto: a hint of the Orient!
Region’s capital: Venice
Population: nearly 5 million
Provinces: Venezia, Belluno, Padova, Rovigo, Treviso, Verona and Vicenza
Impossible to speak of this region without conjuring up the past and present
pomp and majesty of Venice. In short, whereas Venice might now constitute
one of the gems of the world’s cultural heritage, it was once the
centre of a true empire: created in the VIth century by a population
driven back by the barbarian invasions, Venice began to prosper –
as of the IXth century and for centuries more – as a bastion
of politics and commerce. Having gained its independence from the Byzantine
Empire while maintaining important trading privileges, the Venetian Republic
created in 1143 truly flourished from 1204 to 1453, when it controlled not
only the Adriatic coast and Mediterranean routes, but also vast territory
that extended west to Lombardia, north to Austria and east, to Slovenia
This constituted a door to the Orient, as did the feats of adventurers such
as Marco Polo, who, as early as 1271, set off through Central Asia (Silk
Road and Spice Route) towards Peking. This yen for the Orient is still evident
in Venice, as in all of the Veneto region, where one can see its influence
in architectural works and the area’s gastronomy. First, in the preparation
of rice (as well as risotto), where there is abundant use of spices such
as ginger, cumin, pepper, and cloves (see the Recipes
of the month section for a specialty rice and garden peas dish, risi
e bisi). Regional delicacies include peas, fish, Venetian-style liver,
Vicenza-style cod, desserts (such as the Pandoro), and spectacular cheeses,
among them Asiago, Montasio and Ubriaco, the latter meaning drunk,
for it is immersed in a tank of red wine and marc for 6 to 10 months! All
of it accompanied by a fine Valpolicella, Soave, Bianco di Custoza, Amarone,
Prosecco or Breganze, for Veneto is also one of Italy’s major wine-producing
regions. Blending innovation and tradition, the region, thanks to its passionate,
talented and earnest grape growers, offers truly exquisite wines.
Emilia-Romagna: full-flavoured and erudite!
Region’s capital: Bologna
Population: nearly 4 million
Provinces: Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Piacenza, Modena, Ferrara,
Forli-Cesena, Ravenna and Rimini
is located on the Adriatic Sea, south of the Lombardia and Veneto regions.
It is an area rich in art and heritage, with a complex history, as exemplified
by Ravenna’s magnificent Byzantine mosaics and the University of Bologna
(one of the oldest in Europe), whose former students include such illustrious
figures as Erasmus, Dante and Petrarch. The region was also the birthplace
of some of the world’s most renowned opera greats, including composer
Giuseppe Verdi, artist Luciano Pavarotti and film master Federico Fellini.
Emilia-Romagna is, lest we forget, a region where people love to eat! Its
culinary tradition, immersed in a respect for differing tastes and a penchant
for good and healthy food, have gained it a culinary reputation –
much like that enjoyed for its painting, music and architecture –
that is an integral part of the Italian and international cultural heritage.
Lasagna is the region’s prized fare. And while most of the area’s
favourite dishes are meat-based, one will nonetheless see concoctions featuring
other specialties, such as eel. Emilia-Romagna is also the region where
deli meats, including sausages, Original Prosciutto di Parma, culatello
de Zibello, Felino sausage and Bologna mortadella, were first introduced.
Cheeses are also prominent, among them Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano,
Squacquerone and Formaggio di Fossa. Lastly, an overview of Emilia-Romagna’s
culinary delights would not be complete without mentioning the traditional
Modena balsamic vinegar, prepared according to a jealously guarded centuries-old
tradition, of which the region is justly proud.
To recap, three regions showcasing the best that the bountiful Po Plain
has to offer, and revealing their regional delicacies and specialties during
the MONTREAL HIGH LIGHTS Festival, from February 17 to
27 (see the program in the section Calendar