In its history Lombardy has seen various waves of inhabitants from the Gauls, Etruscans and eventually Romans. The city of Milan was briefly the capital of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th century but was overlooked by the conquering Lombards who, besides giving their name to the region, made Pavia the center of their kingdom. After Charlemagne the towns of Lombardy grew wealthy and independent, becoming city-states that eventually would have to band together to quell the ambitions of the Holy Roman Empire. The first of these Lombard Leagues successfully defended their autonomy against Frederick Barbarossa at the battle of Legnano in 1176. During this time Milan regained its prominence and flourished under the feudal rule of several dynastic families including the Sforzas, patrons of Leonardo DaVinci.
Several centuries of foreign rule ensued that included Napoleon and the Austrian Empire. By 1848 the Risorgimento was in full swing and Austrian rule was ousted in Lombardy. Today Lombardy straddles a life of business and modernity with a beautiful countryside, magnificent and tranquil lake towns are contrasted by the busy lifestyle of Milan. However all of it is complemented by the regions bountiful agricultural wealth that feed the entire nation.
Lombardy Foods and Wines
Lombardy is well above the "oil line" in Italian cooking and so butter is the cooking fat of choice for the region's specialties. The capital Milan is known for several dishes that make use of this abundant rice-growing region. Minestrone alla Milanese, which is the mother of all Minestrone soups and contains vegetables, rice and bacon. Risotto alla Milanese is a creamy dish of braised short-grain rice blended with meat stock, saffron and cheese. Osso bucco is a traditional main course of a knuckle of veal with the marrowbone intact and braised with rosemary and sage. The standout cheese of the region is Gorgonzola, a creamy and rich blue cheese that is ideal for sauces. The most famous dessert from Lombardy is the Italian fruitcake known as Panettone. Once only prepared for Christmas, this specialty is found boxed and sold year-round in Italy. Torrone, a popular nougat and almond confection is a native product of Cremona but is also sold nationwide.
Lombardy wines are mainly grown on the steep slopes of the Valtellina area, known for its well-aged reds. The gem of the region is the Valtellina Superiore, a deep smooth red that is aged for five years before being served. Around Lake Iseo is an area known as Franciacorta and is the home to Lombardy's sparkling white wines. The locally grown Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco grapes to produce sparkling wines in the tradition of the Champagnes of France. However these wines are truly Italian and have been protected by the covetous DOCG designation.