Last updated on November 17th, 2023
Whether you are traveling to Milan for the first time or looking to step outside the capital and explore the entire region, we have you covered with our complete guide to Lombardy’s traditional and regional food.
We’ll look at the most iconic dishes, ingredients and wines that you should try on your next visit.
We have explored not only Milan but also the outskirts, neighboring cities and beautiful mountains – in the humid summers and the frigid winters, to provide you with a complete list of Lombary’s most classic foods.
If you want to make the best of your experience, whether you are a foodie or not, read on to know more about what makes food from Lombardy unique, the most popular dishes, how to pronounce them and what they are all about. We will also include insider recommendations for some of our favorite spots.
Nice to Know: Lombardy is Lombardia in Italian.
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Food from Lombardy vs Italian Food
When we think of Italian food, we think of fresh, Mediterranean flavors such as vine-ripe tomatoes, lush basil, handmade pasta and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. This is not what you will find in Lombardy but don’t be mistaken; you won’t miss these flavors one bit when you sink your teeth into a bite of pillowy ravioli or creamy, rich risotto.
Meat, cheese, butter and rice make up the base of Lombardy’s cuisine, characterized by rich and bold flavors. The food is heavier and heartier (it must be to keep you warm in the winter months) with Germanic and Swiss influences, which is why rice reigns over pasta any day of the week. Polenta is also used much more than in central or southern Italy. The pasta they regularly enjoy is often made fresh and stuff as opposed to pasta asciutta or dried pasta.
Lombardy is wealthy with Milan at its heart, providing opportunity, growth, and economic stability to the whole region, which is directly reflected in its cooking. While many other Italian recipes are based on la cucina povera or poor man’s food defined as simple dishes made with local ingredients, northern Italian cooking uses ingredients that cost more to produce and they rely much more on importation for produce. Prime cuts of meat, expensive cheeses and rare spices are important pillars of regional dishes.
(Pronounced breh-sah-oh-lah in Italian)
This PGI-protected salami from Valtellina is lean and light, made with cured beef that has been aged for several months. It’s a common ingredient in salads or served with cooked vegetables as a secondo or main dish.
Salame d’oca di Mortara
(Pronounced sah-lah-meh doh-kah dee mohr-tahr-ah in Italian)
This goose salumi, which can be traced back to Jewish origins, is made with goose meat and pork seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs and wrapped in goose skin. After resting for several days, the salami is cooked. Its flavor is slightly spicy while it has a soft, silky texture.
Salame di Varzi
(Pronounced sah-lah-meh dee vahr-zee in Italian)
This pork salami is considered one of Italy’s finest varieties, originating in the Staffora Valley, about 40 miles just south of Milan. It’s aged for longer periods compared to other cured meats resulting in a sweet yet slightly bitter flavor.
(Pronounced grah-nah pah-dah-noh in Italian)
Although this cheese is nowadays made in other regions, its origins have been traced back to Milan where monks would make this cheese hundreds of years ago. Similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, yet not nearly as complex or prestigious, this cheese is aged anywhere from 16-20+ months, taking on a similar texture. Like most cheeses, the longer it ages, the more complex and intricate the flavors become.
Learn More: Study up on formaggio with our Complete Guide to Italian Cheese!
(Pronounced tah-lehj-joh in Italian)
Taleggio is a great cheese for cooking as it melts beautifully. Coming from Val Taleggio , this DOP cheese is a medium-aged cow’s milk cheese with a slightly sweet yet tangy flavor.
(Pronounced beet-toh in Italian)
This cow’s milk cheese is semi-hard made in a large cylindrical shape, anywhere from 17-26 lb (8-12 kilos). Its flavor is light with the slightest hint of local herbs that grow in the mountains where it is made.
(Pronounced Vahl-tehl-lee-nah cah-sehr-ah in Italian)
This DOP cheese is similar to bitto made with semi-skim cow’s milk in the province of Sondrio. It melts well, making it ideal for pairing with polenta or other primi such as pizzoccheri.
Mostarda di Frutta
(Pronounced moh-stahr-dah dee froot-tah in Italian)
This compote is made from various candied fruits served in a mustard syrup ideal for balancing out rich, sharp flavors of cheese and cured meats.
(Pronounced skee-ahch-chah-tee-nah mahn-toh-vah-nah in Italian)
Also known as chisolina, this is a square or rectangular-shaped flatbread made with flour, water, yeast, lard, salt, and olive oil and sometimes flavored with onions, rosemary, or pork cracklings. It is a very crispy and crunchy bread, actually more of a thick cracker, that was originally eaten by farmers who would bring it out with them on long days in the countryside to keep them going.
(Pronounced mee-keht-tah in Italian)
It’s not certain but it’s a common belief that this bread was invented in Lombardy under Austrian rule. This roll is characterized by its round shape with a hard exterior and airy interior that is somewhat hollow.
(Pronounced shaht in Italian)
In the local dialect, sciatt refers to a toad, which is what these dark, oddly shaped buckwheat fritters somewhat look like. Made from a batter of buckwheat, beer, grappa, and diced cheese, usually Valtellina Casera, these fritters are then formed into balls and deep-fried until golden brown. You most likely will see them served as an appetizer on a bed of greens but locals also eat them for snacks as street food.
Bresaola e Porcini
(Pronounced breh-sah-oh-lah eh pohr-chee-nee in Italian)
Two of the most prestigious ingredients combine to make a light and deliciously flavorful salad. Thinly sliced bresaola is topped with fresh, thinly-sliced porcini mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and chopped chives. Sometimes bitto cheese is also added to this salad as well.
Nervetti in Insalata
(Pronounced nehr-veht-tee in in-sah-lah-tah in Italian)
Perhaps not for everyone, this northern salad is a classic among locals made from beef, cartilage and tendons that are all cooked with the bone, left to cool and set as the natural gelatin hardens up, creating a firm, jelly-like texture. After cooking, the mass is thinly sliced and served with various vegetables. Many traditionalists enjoy this salad as is, while others prefer to add flavors like olives, onions, or peppers.
(Pronounced mahn-free-goh-leh in Italian)
This is a unique primo from the mountains of Valtellina made from savory buckwheat pancakes filled with bresaola and casera cheese. The presentation of this dish varies depending on the chef but the pancakes are typically rolled up with the filling, cut into rounds and placed face-up in a dish before being covered in cheese and baked until golden. This is a perfect dish to warm up with on cold winter evenings.
(Pronounced poh-lehn-tah tah-rahg-nah in Italian)
The name of this buckwheat and cornmeal primo comes from the word tarai, referring to the wooden tool traditionally used to stir the polenta as it cooks. The creamy cornmeal is cooked slowly for about an hour and enriched with butter and cheese such as Valtellina Casera, Bitto, Branzi, or Fontina. This is another popular dish in the wintertime.
We Recommend: Trattoria da Ornella (Bergamo) has great polenta dishes.
Buckwheat pasta cut into wide ribbons is cooked with potatoes and cabbage (sometimes replaced by swiss chard or green beans depending on the season) until soft and tender before being finished with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Valtellina Casera cheese, garlic and butter. The whole dish is quickly broiled until the cheese melts.
(Pronounced mahr-oo-bee-nee in Italian)
This stuffed pasta from Cremona is shaped into little rounds and stuffed with either breadcrumbs, melted beef marrow, parmesan cheese and eggs, or with a combination of beef marrow, parmesan and braised beef, roast pork or veal. Instead of being cooked in boiling water, they are usually cooked in a rich beef broth before being drained, tossed in melted butter, and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
(Pronounced cah-sohn-cehl-lee breh-shahn-ee in Italian)
This ancient dish from Brescia dating back to the Renaissance is made from a very thin pasta dough that is filled with a mixture of grated stale bread, nutmeg and cheese such as Grana Padano or Bagòss. This recipe, however, is very versatile and you will notice many variations, including fillings made from meat or vegetables, particularly spinach or swiss chard and various herbs. Every household has its recipe.
Tortelli di Zucca
(Pronounced tohr-tehl-lee dee zook-kah in Italian)
This is perhaps Lombardy’s most famous stuffed pasta made with a pumpkin filling slightly sweetened with bitter amaretto cookies and fruit mustard and balanced out with savory parmesan cheese. Don’t worry; they are not too sweet but are the perfect balance between salty and sweet. They are most often served in a butter and sage sauce and most traditionally served on Christmas Eve, although you will see locals eating this dish all year round.
Pasta al Mascarpone
(Pronounced pah-stah ahl mah-scahr-poh-neh in Italian)
This is a very rich and heavy pasta made from maltagliati pasta (a hand-rolled egg pasta) dressed in a creamy sauce of egg yolks, nutmeg, mascarpone, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don’t let all the eggs and cheese scare you away – it’s worth every single bite!
(Pronounced zoop-pah pah-veh-seh in Italian)
According to legend, this soup was invented for the hungry and tired King Francis I of France after his defeat in the 1525 battle of Pavia. This humble soup has remained a favorite in the region using only the simplest of ingredients. Eggs are poached in either beef or chicken broth and then ladled into bowls lined with stale bread. It is finished with a generous sprinkling of parmesan.
Risotto con Bitto e Bresaola
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh cohn beet-toh eh breh-sah-oh-lah in Italian)
This typical creamy risotto from Valtellina is flavored with, of course, bitto and bresaola. Generally speaking, when making risotto, onions are sautéed in olive oil, the rice is lightly toasted and then wine and stock are added slowly, allowing the starch from the rice to release very slowly, creating a creamy rice, rather than a dry one. Butter and cheese are stirred in at the end to add richness and sheen.
Risotto alla Certosina
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl-lah chehr-toh-see-nah in Italian)
This rice dish was invented by the monks living at the Certosa di Pavia monastery. Carnaroli rice is cooked in the traditional method of slowly adding broth until creamy and finished with freshwater fish like crayfish, frogs and perch from the Po and the Ticino.
Risotto alla Pilota
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl-lah pee-loh-tah in Itaian)
This risotto is named after the pilati, the workers who husk the rice during the harvest. Unlike typical rich and creamy risotto, this version is dry and grainy as it was made to last for days and be reheated for farmers and rice workers. It is flavored with pork sausage and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Risotto al Prezzemolo
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl prehz-zehm-oh-loh in Italian)
This is a traditional Italian risotto made with either Arborio or Carnaroli rice with the addition of lots of chopped parsley at the end.
Risotto alla Milanese
(Pronounced ree-soht-toh ahl-lah mee-lahn-eh-seh in Italian)
This bright yellow risotto is by far the most well-known risotto from Lombardy, specifically Milan, flavored with saffron. Historically, this dish was reserved for only the wealthiest as saffron was so expensive, but today it’s common across economic divides. You absolutely cannot leave without trying it at least once!
Riso e Salvia
(Pronounced ree-soh eh sahl-vee-ah in Italian)
Short grain rice such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano is cooked with sage, butter and water until creamy. Right before going to the table it is finished with finely chopped scallions, butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Riso e Filetto di Pesce Persico
(Pronounced ree-soh eh fee-leht-toh dee peh-sheh pehr-see-coh in Italian)
Originally from Lake Como, this dish is made with a simple butter risotto topped with perch filets that have been floured or dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and lightly pan-fried in butter and sage until crisp. It is considered an all-in-one meal – no need to order a secondo but of course, you certainly can!
(Pronounced loo-gah-neh-gah in Italian)
You will also see this sausage called salsiccia a metro meaning “sausage by the meter” because it comes as one very long sausage coiled up into a disk. This pork sausage generally needs to be cooked as it can be aged as little as four days (but up to 4 months). They are great in stews or grilled.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
Cotoletta alla Milanese
(Pronounced coh-toh-leht-tah ahl-lah mee-lahn-eh-seh in Italian)
If not just as famous as risotto alla milanese, this pan-fried veal cutlet is a close second. What characterizes this cutlet is that it is dipped only in eggs and breadcrumbs (no flour), and cooked with the bone only in butter. Another must-try dish before you leave Milan!
We Recommend: Book a table at Trattoria del Nuovo Macello (Milan) for their cotoletta.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
(Pronounced ohs-soh-boo-koh ahl-lah mee-lan-eh-seh in Italian)
This secondo is made by slowly braising veal shanks in white wine, carrots, onion, celery, chicken stock and mushrooms until it is fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s finished with a gremolata (mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic), helping to lighten the whole thing up.
We Recommend: Trattoria Milanese (Milan) is great for trying several different dishes because you can order half portions of just about anything. Just ask!
(Pronounced mahn-zoh ahl-ah-cheh-toh in Italian)
This dish is made from a round steak that is simmered with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and capers. This beef dish can either be enjoyed hot or cold, or at room temperature making it ideal for either cold winters or hot summers.
(Pronounced mahn-zoh ahl-oh-lee-oh in Italian)
Literally translating to “beef in oil” this is a secondo from Rovato made from rump, which is quickly seared in a very hot pan with white wine, garlic, parsley, rosemary, anchovies, carrots, onion and celery and then slowly cooked until tender. Order potatoes as a contorno or side dish to go with this beef.
Manzo al Limone
(Pronounced mahn-zoh ahl lee-moh-neh in Italian)
This beef dish is flavored with butter, lemons, olive oil, salt, pepper, and beef stock. The raw meat is first rubbed with lemon slices before being marinated for three days with even more lemon slices. After this time, the beef is drained, seasoned and oven baked until tender.
(Pronounced cahs-sheh-lah in Italian)
This stew is made from braised pork cutlets and cabbage and is often served with polenta. This dish is very popular in the winter when it is quite cold but don’t expect to see it on menus in the height of summer and if you do, you probably won’t enjoy it much unless you hit some unexpected chilly evenings.
We Recommend: Ratanà (Milan) serves up some of the best classics that Lombardy offers in all of Milan.
(Pronounced zee-goy-nehr in Italian)
Originating in Valtellina, tzigoiner is made from thin slices of beef that have been marinated in oil, wine and spices before being wrapped around a wooden skewer and grilled. Typically this dish is enjoyed with french fries, a side of mustard and a small dish or grated horseradish.
(Pronounced spee-eh-doh in Italian)
You will find this dish most often around Lake Garda. It is made with various meats including pork, beef, chicken, and rabbit, along with slices of potato and sage leaves that are slow-roasted for up to 5 hours on a spit.
Salmì di Cervo
(Pronounced sahl-mee dee cher-voh in Italian)
This venison stew is enriched with many spices such as nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves, sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper berries, peppercorns and salt. Rich and hearty, this is a great way to dip your toe into venison if you haven’t before.
(Pronounced tahr-ohz in Italian)
This is a hearty dish made from locally grown potatoes and runner beans which are boiled and then mashed in butter, onions and garlic. Casera cheese is mixed in until melted and ecco fatto – it’s ready!
Torrone di Cremona
(Pronounced tohr-roh-neh dee creh-moh-nah in Italian)
Believed to have been introduced by the Arabs, this nougat is flavored with toasted almonds, honey and vanilla. Variations also include candied fruit and lemon zest and it can either be hard or soft. Although you can find it year-round, it’s especially popular around Christmas time.
Tip: Torrone is so loved that Cremona hosts a nine-day celebration every year in honor of it. If you happen to be around in November, check the dates because it’s quite the event!
Brutti ma Buoni
(Pronounced broot-tee mah boo-oh-nee in Italian)
Literally meaning “ugly but good” these cookies are pretty ugly looking but actually pretty good tasting. Crunchy and chewy, these cookies are made so with egg whites, almonds, butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.
(Pronounced tohr-tah behr-toh-lee-nah in Italian)
This is the simplest of cakes made with uva fragola or concord grapes. Sometimes the best things are the easiest to make. Look for this in the fall during the grape harvest in September/October.
(Pronounced cohp-peht-tah in Italian)
This is a soft and chewy nougat made from walnuts, chopped cookies and honey that is spread between two thin wafers. It’s then cut into small rectangles and served during holidays.
(Pronounced mee-ah-shee-ah in Italian)
This dessert is most similar to a bread pudding with origins in the cucina povera as a means to use up stale bread. The bread is mixed with eggs, milk, lemon zest, apple and pear slices, sugar, and raisins, and then baked until golden brown. It’s finished with a fresh, cropped rosemary sprinkling, giving it a very aromatic and woody flavor. Locals love this for breakfast.
(Pronounced bee-shoh-lah in Italian)
Also referred to as panettone di Valtellina because it resembles the famous Italian classic sweet bread panettone. Legend has it that when Napoleon was in Valtellina with his troops, he requested something sweet made with local ingredients and this is what they came up with. This brioche-like dough is enhanced with nuts, raisins and figs.
(Pronounced saree-soh-loh-nah in Italian)
This cake was originally created as a poor man’s dessert made with inexpensive, local ingredients but was also historically popular among nobles. It’s a crunchy, crumbly, buttery cake made with cornmeal, flour, sugar, butter, nuts and plenty of spices. Because it’s so crumbly and impossible to slice, the cake is served in broken pieces, often with grappa or other sweet wines such as Malvasia, Vin Santo, or Passito of Pantelleria.
We Recommend: Head to Panificio Pasticceria Pavesi (Mantua) for some of the absolute best sbrisolona.
Amaretti di Saronno
(Pronounced ahm-ahr-eht-tee dee sahr-ohn-noh in Italian)
This is a crispy, light, bittersweet cookie made from almonds, egg whites and sugar. Although the recipe is no secret and can be made by anyone, the exclusive name Amaretti di Saronno belongs to the Lazzaroni family who produces these cookies on a large scale.
Learn More: About Italy’s most beloved cookies in 10 Most Popular Italian Cookies – Where To Eat Them and How To Pronounce Them
We Recommend: D.Lazzaroni & C. Antica Pasteria (Lainate) is famous for their amaretti cookies and holds the trademark for the name di Saronno.
Torta delle Rose
(Pronounced toh-tah dehl-leh roh-seh in Italian)
Literally meaning “cake of roses,” this beautiful cake is made by forming the sweet dough into rose-like shapes and filling them with buttercream before baking. This cake is typically made for special occasions or anyhow at home because to eat it, you pull off one of the roses with your hands for an individual serving. Another breakfast favorite among Italians.
(Pronounced tohr-tah pahr-ah-dee-soh in Italian)
A classic and simple sponge-like cake from Pavia, often filled with things like reams, custards, or jams, but purists prefer it on its own without any filling. Try it for breakfast if you are at a bar with an espresso or cappuccino.
(Pronounced coh-lohm-bah pah-sqwahl-eh in Italian
This is an Italian sweet bread made from a brioche-like dough shaped like a dove and covered with a sugar and almond topping. The dough is flavored with either lemon zest or candied fruit. It’s light and airy, great for breakfast or for a light dessert around Easter time.
We Recommend: Pasticceria Marchesi (Milan) is not only a beautiful bakery but serves up what some consider the best colomba pasquale around.
(Pronounced pahn-eht-toh-neh in Italian)
This is by far Italy’s most internationally recognized sweet bread made from a rich brioche dough that is dotted with raisins and candied fruit. This bread is enjoyed for breakfast, as an afternoon snack, or even as dessert and is a common gift to give among friends and family.
Tip: If you can swallow the price tag, buy yourself an artisan panettone at a bakery instead of a mass-produced brand. They are much more expensive (around 20-30 euros) instead of 5-8 at the supermarket but it’s honestly worth it. Our family only buys one or two artisan panettoni a year instead of several commercial versions like we used to do. Once you taste the good stuff, it’s hard to go back!
Read More: About panettone and other Italian breads in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced scratch-chah-tehl-lah in Italian)
Stracciatella is a variety of Italian gelato (ice cream), consisting of milk, cream, and sugar, with bits of chocolate swirled inside said to have been invented in 1962 at the Ristorante La Marianna in Bergamo by Enrico Panattoni. Note that it isn’t made with chocolate chips but rather broken-up pieces of good quality chocolate.
We Recommend: La Marianna Ristorante (Bergamo) is said to have invented stracciatella so why not go to the source?
Lombardy Ingredients and Flavors
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil from Lake Garda: this DOP olive oil is made with Casaliva, Frantoio, and Leccino olives, giving it a light, fresh taste with hints of grass and artichokes. Definitely worth bringing back a bottle if you have space for it!
- Zucca Mantovana: sometimes referred to as “the priest’s hat” because of its shape, this pumpkin variety is used throughout Lombardy, especially in stuffed pastas.
- Missoltini: this is preserved shad made in the area of Lake Como. The fish is dried and flavored with bay leaves.
- Venchi: Venchi is famous Italian chocolate brand that originated in Lombardy. Check out their individual chocolates, gelato and hot chocolate.
- Sforzato di Valtellina: this DOCG wine is very unique and made from Nebbiolo or Chiavennesca grapes that are spread across straw mats to dry for several months, creating a wine that is spicy and sweet with hints of licorice.
- Lugana: referring to the white-wine vineyards in northern Lombardy and into Veneto that produce the Trebianno grapes used to make this wine. They tend to be sweet and citrusy.
- Franciacorta: a sparkling white wine similar to Prosecco or Champagne made from a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. This wine is considered Italy’s finest sparkling wine and the proof is in its price tag.
- Valtellina Superiore: made from Nebbiolo grapes, this wine is from the Valtellina Valley. It is aged for at least 24 months.