and its food: a brief intro
This is the wealthiest third of the republic, the land of Alps and lakes, butter and cream, pasta all’uovo, polenta and risotti. For more detailed information on local specialities, scroll down the listings under each individual region's heading.
Piedmont (Piemonte): Stretching from the Alps to table-flat rice paddies in the east, Piedmont is home to top wines (the famous three B's: Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco), white truffles, cheeses (Castelmagno and Gorgonzola among many others) meats and hazelnuts, that reach their epiphany in gianduja: the town of Bra is headquarters of the Slow Food movement, while Turin hosts Slow Food's Salon del Gusto fairs. Among the best known Piedmontese specialities are bagna càuda, grissini, bollito misto, and finanziera.
The name comes from the medieval Latin Pedemontium or Pedemontis, 'at the foot of the mountains'.
Valle d’Aosta: Small, autonomous, bilingual (French and Italian) region in the highest Alps, especially renowned for its cheeses (Fontina, fondute), cured meats, and flaming coffee and booze shared in a grolla. The locals also speak Valdôtaina, a form of Occitan, resulting in some of the trickier names.
The name means the 'Valleys of Augustus', by way of the Roman colony, Augusta Prætoria Salassorum (the modern city of Aosta).
Liguria: The cuisine of Italy’s smallest region, Liguria (aka the Italian Riviera) in many ways is the much touted Mediterranean diet, classic cucina povera making good use of olive oil, fresh vegetables, pasta, seafood, a little cheese and wine. Classic dishes include cappon magro, focaccia, burrida, farinata and cima alla genovese. And of course Liguria also gave the world one of its favourite sauces: pesto.
The name comes from the ancient Ligures, the tribe who occupied the region from the early first millennium BC.
Lombardy (Lombardia): Large and dynamic region of Milan, the Po plain, the great alpine lakes and valley, the Valtellina, which claims a full sixth of Italy's population and produces much of the country's wealth. Lake fish such as lavarello are tasty, and hearty dishes prevail: polenta, cotoletta and risotto alla milanese, ossobuco and cassuoela. Among its many cheeses are Grano Padano. The Valtellina is famous for its buckwheat (grano saraceno) pizzoccheri.
The name comes from the Lombards (or Longobardi), a Germanic tribe who occupied much of Italy in the 570s and made Pavia their capital.
Veneto: This includes of course Venice itself, as well as the entroterra from the Po delta and lower Dolomites. Rich in seafood and shell fish from the Venetian lagoon and Chioggia, while growing radicchio, asparagus, and much more, the Veneto developed an original culinary style thanks to a thousand years of independence and influences from a vast Mediterranean trade network; classic dishes include risi e bisi, bigoli in salsa, gnocchi, and baccalà alla vicentina.
The name comes from the Veneti, the ancient tribe inhabiting the region, who also gave the name to Venice.
Trentino-Alto Adige (Süd Tirol): Encompassing the western Dolomites and bilingual Alto Adige on the Austrian border, Trentino is famous for apples, gnocchi and canederli; wine-making Alto Adige, not surprisingly has strong Austrian influences, with its strudels, smoked meats with rye bread, speck and Schlutzkrapfen.
The name Trentino means the 'region of Trento' (the capital): Alto Adige comes from the upper valleys of the Adige River.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Wedged in the corner between Austria and Slovenia, with a very complicated history and Trieste as its capital, this partly autonomous region is Italy with Central European twist and excellent white wines. There is superb ham from San Daniele di Friuli; further east await goulash, frico, jota, cjalzons, and wonderful desserts redolent of the Austro-Hungarian empire: gubana, strudels and more.
The name Friuli is derived from the Roman foundation, Forum Iulii (Julius' Forum), the original name of the town, Cividale del Friuli. Venezia-Giulia refers to the area's former situation in the Venetian empire and the Julian Alps in the northeastern area of Carnia.
Emilia-Romagna: Between north and central Italy, Emilia-Romagna neatly crosses the entire peninsula, occupying the Po plain and the northern Apennines. The locals say A panzu pina u s’ragiona mej–‘You think best with a full belly’, and are proud that their region rivals (if not trumps) Piedmont as home of Italy’s finest cuisine, with Bologna il Grasso ('the Fat') as capital. Emilia-Romagna has a well-deserved reputation for top quality pork, cheese and pasta, notably prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, tortellini, ragù alla bolognese and Parmigiana. Modena is world famous for its aceto balsamico, while the Romagna side is the source of piadine.
The name Emilia, referring to the western half of the region, comes from the long straight Roman road, the Via Aemilia, constructed in 187 BC under the consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Romagna is derived from Romània, the name given by the Lombards in the 6th century to the part of Italy still occupied by the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantium), during the golden age of Ravenna.