Near Milan there is a region where the lakes and medieval cities are a break from the city crowds. Milan is also located very near to the lovely Franciacorta wine country where the bubbly italian “Champagne” is made, and is the perfect destination for a short weekend.
Franciacorta is well worth a visit for its wines; however it offers the connoisseur more than just its famous little bubbles.
Row upon row of vines, gently rolling hills, charming villages, castles and abbeys, battlemented towers, and patrician villas immersed in ancient and verdant landscape is covered by the Strada del Vino Franciacorta. Its evocative landscape is rich in important artistic heritage. This wine region has always been an important centre for commerce, as proved by its many markets, trade fairs and exhibitions held throughout the year. Just a few examples are the annual Carnival at Erbusco where the “Re del Gnoc” is elected and the “Settimana della tinca al forno” (oven baked tench), the fair held in Clusane d’Iseo every summer. The Autumn months are awash with wine tasting events; The “Consorzio per la Tutela del Franciacorta” holds a weekend wine tasting event every September giving participants a chance to find out more about the wines of Franciacorta and the land. The Strada del Franciacorta organises La Caccia al Tesoro, a Treasure Hunt that leaves no stone unturned; it’s an occasion in which to learn about the history, culture and wines of Franciacorta. One of Franciacorta’s most longstanding fairs the “Fiera del manzo pasquale” held in Rovato, and now known as Lombardia Carne, was first held on 15 April 1868 under the auspices of the Town Council. Taking place in April, it’s a showcase for the finest meat of northern Italy.
Franciacorta’s superb gastronomic tradition is essentially bipolar and based around meat and fish dishes: traditional peasant meat dishes from central Franciacorta and fish dishes from the lakeside area of Iseo.
Visitors will encounter a mouthwatering assortment of specialties in the local restaurants and delicatessens. Gastro pubs and trattorie serve succulent dishes continuing the tradition of tasty and simple cuisine, focusing on a few local dishes made with local produce.
The renaissance that the traditional wine-making techniques of Franciacorta is currently enjoying has fuelled the dawning of a new era in gastronomy, with exceptionally talented chefs recently emerging on the scene.
Franciacorta is one of the few areas north of the Apennines that enjoys an adequately mild climate propitious for the cultivation of the olive tree to produce the Laghi Lombardi extra virgin olive oil – Sebino. Polenta made with stone ground maize is a staple of the local diet and is traditionally eaten with meat, fish or cheese. Butter and cheese can be melted into it or it can be mixed with a ragù sauce or cut into fine slices and fried or grilled. Ravioli and casonsei, bite sized pasta stuffed with a variety of fillings are very popular. Luertis (also referred to as lovertis), is a little known wild growing hop used to enhance the flavor of risotti and frittate.
The fish caught in Lake Iseo is highly prized, in particular whitefish, perch, twaite shad and tench. Oven baked stuffed Tench served with polenta is a specialty of the Clusane d’Iseo riviera. The freshwater tiny allis shads are traditionally left to dry in the sun and then preserved in olive oil. They are also eaten grilled, brushed with olive oil and served with polenta.
Wild mushrooms, including porcini and chanterelles that proliferate on the spurs of the Alps, are delicious in frittate, risotti, and pasta dishes and stews. The salame of Monte Isola, not only the largest island in Lake Iseo but also in Europe, is highly sought after, despite its limited production.
Beef has always featured heavily in the local diet, so much so that manzo all’olio is Franciacorta’s signature dish – its first documented recipe dates from as early as 1500. The recipe comes from Rovato, whose inns were famed for their boiled meat and tripe dishes.
Pork skewers made with farmyard reared meat are festive fare for the townspeople of Brescia. Fowl is used widely in the local cuisine. Restaurants by law can only use imported frozen fowl, and it is only in private houses that you can still sample locally shot fowl.
A wide selection of cheeses are made in Franciacorta, many of which are made according to time-honored traditions and bear the DOP classification. Try Brescia’s Robiola lightly brushed with olive oil, or Salva and Silter, delicious eaten with honey or sweet mustards. Try the flavoursome Taleggio dop or the famous Grana Padano dop, Provolone Valpadana dop, Quartirolo dop and Gorgonzola dop.
Franciacorta not only produces wines but also superb brandies, both young and aged. Grappa has been made in Franciacorta for years and since 1997 bears the DOC classification.
You can combine your stay in Franciacorta with the one day visit to Bergamo Alta, a lovely medieval city.