- Food & Wine
At table, from Cremona to Mantua
Lambrusco and squash tortelli. Mustard and roasted meat. Contrasts and harmonies in traditional flavors to taste
Packed with towns renowned for their history, art, recipes and traditions, the area’s opulent cuisine is built on measured contrasts and sophisticated combinations which reflect a passion for life
Long traditions. It’s no coincidence that Bartolomeo Sacchi, the author of De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, one of the most famous recipe books in the world, hailed from Cremona. Back then, the vast Po Valley, extending off towards the Adriatic, was already a hub of trade, with the major port of Cremona receiving goods from Venice and the Orient: spices, salt and perhaps even nougat, a typical Mediterranean sweet.
Mostarda. Agriculture has always been a booming industry in the area, with the main crops including melons, squashes, watermelons, onions, pears and apples, the latter two of which are used to make mostarda, a preserve which can be traced back to Roman times. The sweetness of the fruit is offset by the spice of mustard, making mostarda the perfect accompaniment for local roasted or stewed meat dishes, such as gran bollito misto (a hearty meat stew), cotechino sausages or stracotto d’asino, a stew made using donkey meat. Equally important to the local cuisine is pork, which is turned into cured meats – both firm and soft – and flavoured subtly with garlic. The ideal bedfellow for the opulent local food is Lambrusco Mantovano, a sparkling red wine with an ancient past: over 2000 years ago, Virgilio – one of the area’s illustrious fathers – referenced the bright red leaves of the Vitis Labrusca grape in one of his poems.
Unexpected sweetness. The star of Mantuan cooking is a pasta dish: squash tortelli, made sweet by the Amaretti biscuits and mostarda contained in the filling. Don’t miss the local Sbrisolona tart, whose name derives from its crumbly texture, with lumps and bumps falling off whenever it is sliced up.
Manmade lakes. In the southeast edge of the region, fish reigns supreme. Mantua is built on the banks of the River Mincio and, since 1100, thanks to a series of huge hydraulics projects, has been surrounded by three lakes. The most prized fish is pike, which is often cooked in a sauce of capers, parsley, garlic and anchovies and served with seared polenta. Cremona is also renowned for its freshwater fish dishes, with the region crisscrossed with countless rivers and streams.