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Guide to Food and Drink in the Italian Lakes

Lombard cuisine is as varied as the landscape. The western side of Lake Maggiore is in Piedmont, with its truffles, grissini and Barolo wine. There are regional specialities here too, of course: a favourite local dish at lake Orta is tapulon (minced donkey meat braised in red wine). Perhaps a little more appealing to a British palate are trotella alla Savoia (trout on mushrooms) and the Lake Iseo speciality tinca al forno (baked tench with polenta).

Lombardy is the home of some well known traditional favourites which have influenced the cuisine in neighbouring Ticino: ossobuco (shin of veal braised in tomato and wine sauce), risotto alla milanese, or the costoletta alla milanese. This last was first mentioned in a Lombard cookbook dated 1134 as lombolos cum paniitio, discovered in the 19th century by the Austrian field-marshal Radetsky and introduced to the Austrian capital as Wiener Schnitzel.

A speciality of the Varesotto is faraona alla Valcuvia, partridge baked Valcuvia-style, traditionally in a soft clay container. Around Verona the risotto comes into its own. For a taste of home cooking, cazzoeula (pork stew) is deliciously filling.

Fish is of course an integral part of the cuisine around the Italian Lakes. Agonia alla Comasca (baked and marinated shad), anguilla del pescatore (stewed eel), lavarelli al vino bianco (lake fish in white wine), pesce in gelatina (fish in aspic) and suppa di pesce alla tremezzina (fish soup) are just a few of the numerous fish specialities. A typical Lake Como delicacy is cutadura (salted and dried shad), a former ‘poor man’s meal’ which has now become something of a gourmet speciality. The delicate Lake Garda trout known as carpione should be sampled too.

For dessert, one of the best ways to wind up a meal is with a panettone (yeast cake) from Milan. Another option is to order a rich tiramisu or ibrutti e i buoni (biscuits served with a glass of Amareto liqueur).

Italy produces excellent cheeses, and local gorgonzola or bel paese are always a good bet. Lombard cheeses include grana (the Lombard version of Parmesan), mascarpone and stracchino. The formaggini (fresh cheeses flavoured with oil and hot paprika) from Ticino are particularly good; robiola comes from the Valsassina and soft gaprini comes from the Brianza (which also does very good salami).

Lombardy’s red wines are particularly good. In Ticino the top wine is a ruby-red Merlot. Bardolino, Valpolocella and Soave (of varying quality) are all produced around Verona. Bianco di Custoza is an elegant Soave from the eastern shore of Lake Garda. The reds of Trentino are excellent, especially Tesoldego and Schiava.

A popular grape south of Lake Garda is Trebbiano, which makes an excellent dry white. Lugana has a particularly good, fresh dry white. A light, fizzy rose is produced in the Valetnesi region north of Desenzano, and two more fine wines are the robust white Tocai del Garda and the versatile Recioto from Val Policella. Choosing a vino della casa (house wine) is a good bet in a restaurant : it is usually dry, light and ‘honest’. One good one is Nostrano, from Ticino.