Northern Italian Cuisine

Northern Italian cuisine originated in the eight uppermost regions of Italy. Six have an alpine border while four have a coastal aspect:

Northern Italian Cuisines by Region


Alpine Regions – Northern Italian Cuisine

The six regions that share borders with France and/or Switzerland are Val D'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino, Veneto, and Fruili-Venezia Giulia, and this is reflected in their local cuisines, particularly in the northernmost parts of each region.

    1. Val D'Aosta

    Like its neighbors throughout the Italian peninsula, this small mountainous region suffered a range of invaders over the centuries, including the Romans, Goths, Lombards, Burgundians, Franks and the House of Savoy. As part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy upon unification in 1861. Many of the inhabitants speak French or German, as well as the local Franco-Provençal dialect.

    The cuisine is typically alpine, with hearty soups and stews, thick breads and cheese fondues. Other popular foods include game meats from the local forests, bacon, cheese and polenta.

    2. Piedmont

    Surrounded on three sides by the Alps, Piedmont was inhabited in early historic times by Celtic-Ligurian tribes, and was subject to a similar series of invasions as Val D'Aosta. The local dialect is Piedmontese and Occitan, a Romance language related to Catalan Spanish. As a territory of Savoy, it became part of a unified Italy in 1861. Turin (Torino) is the capital, and is home to the Fiat factory and the house of Ferrero's chocolate factories.

    Piedmont is Italy's major rice producer and one of its great winegrowing regions. It also produces wheat and maize. Diet staples include wild game, fish, vegetables, prosciutto, cheese and rice, as well as the excellent local wines. Favorite dishes include veal, risotto and polenta.

    3. Lombardy

    Lombardy was initially inhabited by Etruscans, then invaded by Celts from Gaul, Romans and Lombards, who gave the area their name. In 774, the region was ruled by Charlemagne, then the Austrian-Spanish Habsbourgs, the Republic of Venice, the Austrians, Napoleonic France, and finally the Kingdom of Italy. Today, Lombardy contains 16% of Italy's population and produces approximately 20% of its GDP or Gross Domestic Product. Milan is the capital city.

    Lombardy has flourishing agricultural and cattle industries. Like the neighbouring regions, Lombardy's Northern Italian cuisine favors rice (risotto), soups, cheese, beef, polenta, ravioli, turkey, chicken and stewed meats.

    4. Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol

    The region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol was initially conquered by the Romans, and later divided among three Germanic tribes, the Lombards, the Alamanni and the Bavarians. Subsequent rulers were the Holy Roman Emperor, the House of Habsburg, Bavaria, the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy and Austria. In 1918 the region was awarded to Italy.

    During World War II thousands of German-speaking people from Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol were relocated to Germany, but many returned home after the end of the war. In 1947 a plan to grant the region more autonomy, with both German and Italian as official languages, faltered. The issue was only resolved in 1971 when a new Austro-Italian treaty stipulated greater autonomy within Italy, effectively silencing the local separatist movement.

    The region's cuisine features potatoes, dumplings (gnocchi), sauerkraut and goulash, reflecting Slav, Austrian and Hungarian influences. Other influences include the cuisines of the Republic of Venice and the Habsburg Empire, as well as popular Italian staples such as pasta, ricotta, tomatoes and olive oil.

    5. Veneto

    The Veneti were formed by a merging of the indigenous peoples of the region and a Black Sea tribe known as the Eneti. The region became part of the Roman Empire, but was subsequently invaded by Goths, Huns, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, and Lombards, at which time a collection of lagoon dwellers banded together for mutual defence and formed the city of Venice.

    Venice became an independent maritime republic and a commercial force, enjoying 1,100 years of uninterrupted influence throughout the Mediterranean until 1797, when Napoleon conquered Italy. After a period of Austrian rule, Venice became part of a unified Italy in 1866. Today it's the most visited region of Italy, as well as one of its wealthiest and most industrialized. Spoken languages are Italian, Venetian and Ladin.

    The Veneti Northern Italian cuisine reflects both its origins and the influence of the invaders. Veneto is famous for its risotto, often served with fish and seafood, or with pumpkin, asparagus or radicchio (chicory) in the inland areas. Exotic spices and sauces reflect Venice's lengthy trading history. Stockfish, marinated anchovies, sausages, and dry-cured and garlic salamis are popular protein foods, with vegetables served as an accompaniment.

    6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia

    Friuli-Venezia Giulia was created after World War II when the historical region of Friuli was attached to Trieste. Apart from Italian, the Friulian language is spoken in most of the region, Slovenian in the province of Trieste and German by a small minority.

    The area was originally settled by Celts before the arrival of the Romans. In the 6th century the city of Cividale del Friuli became the capital of the Lombard Kingdom. The area was later invaded by the Franks and in 1420 annexed to the Republic of Venice.

    It shares many culinary traditions with the bordering former Yugoslavia. The area is known for its bacon, hams and cheeses and excellent regional wines, and also produces corn and sugar beets. The influence of Austrian, Hungarian, Slovene, and Croatian cuisines are obvious in dishes like Viennese sausage, goulash, Bohemian hare and strudel. Polenta, sausage, cheese, fish and meat are all diet staples.

Non-Alpine Regions – Northern Italian Cuisine

Moving south into the peninsular of Italy are two additional regions that have traditionally been classified as northern Italy:

    7. Liguria

    Liguria is located immediately south of the alpine regions; the capital city is the port of Genoa. Liguria dates back to pre-Roman times, with its population being a mix of Ligures and Gauls. It was colonised by Rome, but from the middle ages became part of the Republic of Genoa until Napoleon Bonaparte reorganized the area into the Ligurian Republic. In 1815, the region was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia and in 1861 became part of unified Italy.

    Liguria borders the French region of Savoy to the west, which was once part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, but was sold to the France in 1859 in return for their support in Italian unification. The Ligurian coastline forms the Italian Riviera.

    Genoa has always been an important seaport. Local industries include olive oil production, winemaking and fishing. Ligurian cuisine favors local ingredients, herbs and vegetables, seafood, pastas, savory pies and cakes, chick peas and panissa.

    8. Emilia-Romagna

    Emilia-Romagna comprises the two historic regions of Emilia and Romagna. The region was an important gateway from Imperial Rome to its territories in northern Italy. It was ruled by the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Lombards and the Papal States, and absorbed into the Italian kingdom in 1859-1861.

    Emilia-Romagna is one of the richest European regions in terms of Gross Domestic Product per population and low unemployment. Bologna and Modena are third and fourth richest Italian cities after Milano and Biella.

    Agriculture is an important industry in the region, producing cereals, maize, rice, polenta, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and fruit, as well as grapes for wine production. Beef and pork are also major products. Pasta is a specialty of the region, with dishes like tortellini, lasagne verdi and tagliatelle originating in Bologna. Balsamic vinegar is a product of Emilia, and Parmesan cheese of Parma. The region is also famous for its cured pork products: Bologna, Parma and Modena hams and Bologna mortadella. Emilia-Romagna offers one of the best examples of Northern Italian cuisine.

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