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The cuisine of northern Italy has its roots in the time of the “Comuni” of the Middle Ages. These City States coalesced in larger “Signorie” (princedoms) that would acquire enormous power and wealth. The wealth of the Italian signori of the Renaissance is  legendary. At this time, the northern Italian cuisine started to take shape.
Many unique food ingredients and original cooking techniques were developed in northern Italy, and they remain very popular all over the world today. A few examples include red radicchio from Treviso, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Parmigiano Reggiano from the Emilia region, prosciutto from Friuli, pesto from Liguria, tortellini from Bologna, and the list goes on.

Every region and every city developed particular qualities depending on its history and geographic location. The lands along the alpine arch all tend to extend in part over the mountains and in part into the Po valley. Two main staples dominate in these areas. In the plain, rice dominates in the form of risotto, and everywhere else, maize dominates in the form of polenta.

To understand the cuisine of northern Italy, we have to go back in history. With the defeat of the Roman armies, the barbarians were able to swarm through Italian territory almost without resistance. The cities were sacked, and the survivors took refuge in the most remote areas of the countryside.

Inhabitants of northern Italy fleeing the Lombard invasion around 570 AD found shelter on the islands along the delta of the Po River. There, the city of Venice was founded, protected by the lagoons in the north Adriatic Sea. After 1000 AD, with the end of the barbaric invasions, the people of Italy began returning to the cities. A widespread increase in population occurred, boosting agricultural production, artisan manufacture, commerce in fairs and markets, and creating important new harbors such as Venice and Genoa.

Read the full article: The Land of City States: The Cuisine of Northern Italy
Northern Italian Cooking
A Traditional Northern Italian Menu