Tourists often show an inordinate interest in the answer to the question, “Where to eat in…” when the correct question to ask is, “What do they eat in…” When you know what the locals eat, then you will likely be able to pick a fine place to eat from looking at menus posted outside. More often than not, as a student of Italian cuisine, I am able to pick the restaurant the Internet travel wonks call “the best” just by taking a critical looks at menus and restaurant interiors before the dinner service starts.
That said, you might think of Cremona as just a mini-stop in Lombardy on the way to somewhere more important in order to pay homage to the prized stringed instruments known to have been crafted in Cremona, particularly the ones made by Cremonese “luthier” Antonio Stradivari.
But there’s the Duomo (“The main façade, together with the adjoining baptistery, is one of the most important monuments of Romanesque art in Europe” according to Wikipedia), the bell tower you can climb., and the unique and celebrated foods of Cremona.
In fact, there has been considerable money spent in trying to get the cuisine of East Lombardy recognized, resulting in the region being named European Region of Gastronomy for 2017.
The region includes some of my favorite “small” cities: Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, and Mantua.
Prepare to be amazed.
The Gastronomy of Cremona
The famous cuisine starts first with a formidable dish which balances the rich, “fit for a king” taste of the Gran Bollito of Cremona with the spikey-hot mixed preserved fruits of the Cremonese Mostarda. Yes, impeccably prepared boiled meats are also quite common in Piemonte, but the Cremonese have their own bollito festival at the end of November in Cremona—and it’s way big.
While many traditional, regional foods are cooked widely in Italian homes and are sometimes unavailable in restaurants (to the dismay of culinary travelers who’ve made a long trek), a Gran Bollito is restaurant food; it requires a wide variety of meats and is best made in rather enormous quantities. If you go in late fall, you’ll find it in abundance in Cremona’s restaurants.
Mostarda, a very typical condiment in the region, is best tasted in Cremona, especially if you can avoid commercial versions (which have been toned down in intensity to service the masses). Mostarda is a mix of candied fruits to which an amount of Essential Mustard Oil (oil extracted from ground up mustard seeds) is added for that heady, sinus-clearing bang. You can make mostarda at home with dry mustard, which consist of ground seeds that still give that zing you find in Chinese mustard. Italians head for the pharmacy to procure their essential oil.
If you’re in Cremona in late November, you’ll come across the quintessential sweet sold at just about any festival in Italy. Torrone, that famous block of white sweetness made from honey and egg whites spiked with toasted almonds first made in the 16th century and sold, like the Essential Mustard Oil, by apothecaries.
Torrone di Cremona IGP is divided into two types, the classic and the soft, or tenero, based on the amount of egg white used. Both types can dipped in dark chocolate or not, and made with almonds or hazelnuts. Historically, there were many more types and flavors of torrone, some of which are still available today.
il Salame Cremona IGP is flavored with garlic.
Cremona’s DOP cheeses include the familiar and the unfamiliar: Grana Padano plus il Provolone Valpadana as well as il Salva Cremasco.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little culinary adventure into little-known Cremona. Perhaps you’ll consider a November vacation, when the food is on display in one of Italy’s most interesting squares.