Nestled in the Italian Alps of Northern Italy is the premier Italian vacation destination of Lake Garda. The largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda offers a unique way of life to the shoreline communities that surround it. The pristine natural scenery of the area is simply stunning with majestic mountains rising sharply from the lake surrounding it with breathtaking views. The only thing better than taking in the beauty of the area, is dining on the outstanding local cuisine while doing so.
Lake Garda’s leading products of wine, extra virgin olive oil, and freshwater fish are all components for a delicious Italian lakeside meal. The area is widely known for its abundance of olive groves and plentiful vineyards that play a large role in the daily diet of locals and visitors. More recently, local truffles have become a key ingredient and rich flavor in meals served here.
Lemons are one of the more unique agricultural finds at this altitude. While generally lemons grow in much warmer climates, lemon trees have been a part of Lake Garda’s history since as early as the fifteenth century. Because of their strong citrusy flavor, they are commonly used to flavor everything from first and second courses, including freshwater fish, to desserts.
Regardless of what aspect of Lake Garda’s cuisine you are most looking forward to trying, prepare to enjoy it leisurely. Mealtime in Italy is a relaxing affair that is enjoyed over several courses and always in the company of good friends. Expect dinner to last up to two hours, or sometimes longer. Be sure to use this time to enjoy the picturesque scenery of Lake Garda while you sample the local fare.
Local cured meats and cheeses are a favorite when it comes to appetizers served here. Diners can expect to enjoy fresh homemade bread served up alongside locally made cheeses and meats. While the ingredients are simple, their high-quality makes these seemingly normal flavors spring to life.
One particular local specialty is salada meat, which is made by flavoring lean beef rump with herbs and spices. The meat may be served raw or cooked.
It would be almost un-Italian not to have pasta options for the first course and Lake Garda does not disappoint. When in Lake Garda, be sure to enjoy a plate of warm, savory tortellini pasta. The tortellini have meat fillings and are usually served with melted butter and sage or melted butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. They can also be served in broth.
Perhaps the pasta shape that is most typical of the area, though, is bigoi. This long pasta shape is similar to spaghetti, but thicker. Locals enjoy bigoi in salsa de aole, which is bigoi served with a fish sauce, such as sardines or anchovies.
Another local specialty is risotto alla tinca, which is made with fresh tench from the lake.
Freshwater fish are the star of the show when it comes to enjoying second courses in Lake Garda. The lake is brimming with marine life, which has become an integral part of the local cuisine. The most commonly enjoyed fish dishes of Lake Garda often include white fish, sardines, pike, chub, perch, carp, eels, and minnows to name just a few. Among the most prized local fish is trout, which is called “the queen of the lake.”
One of the lake’s most popular fish-based second course dishes is Garda fish soup. The soup is made with different types of fish that are cut into pieces and marinated with white wine and herbs. Then, the fish is cooked in olive oil, tomato, garlic, and leek. The soup is served with a generous amount of fresh bread.
Fillet of perch is a local favorite that is cooked simply in butter and sage.
Another local dish is known as yota. This hearty stew typically consists of beans, potatoes, sauerkraut, and garlic. In some cases, prosciutto or pork ribs may be added. When served hot, especially during the winter months, yota can be a delicious way to stay warm.
Side dishes in Lake Garda, like the rest of Italy, are based on seasonal ingredients. Potatoes or creamy polenta may accompany the area’s fish-based dishes.
Frico, a staple of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, may be enjoyed in the northern part of the lake. This snack consists of pieces of thinly sliced cheese that are dusted with flour and fried. Different versions of frico can be created when using various cheeses. The most commonly used cheeses for this menu item are montasio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or mozzarella.
Among the Lake Garda area’s traditional desserts is fugazza, which is a sweetened flatbread made with butter, eggs, sugar, flour, yeast, and lime zest. At one time, fugazza was always paired with a glass of milk or wine, though this tradition has now fallen out of fashion.
Bussolà is another sweetened bread that is similar to fugazza, however it is presented in the shape of a ring.
Another local specialty is torta de fregoloti, which is a delicious almond cake with a crunchy texture.
Panna cotta, enjoyed throughout Italy, is an indulgent and creamy dessert made from cream, gelatin, and sugar. It usually has a consistency similar to pudding and is topped with tasty fruit, jams, or sometimes chocolate.
Tiramisu is an Italian classic that is simply fabulous when enjoyed lakeside at a fine dining establishment. It is believed that the dessert may have originated in the Veneto region, one of the regions in which Lake Garda is located. This elegant favorite is just as delicious as it is beautiful in presentation. Flavors of sugar, mascarpone, cocoa, and coffee all come together to make this decadent treat one of the most often requested desserts in all of Italy.
WINE FROM LAKE GARDA
No meal in Lake Garda is complete without a glass of locally made Italian wine. The unique microclimate surrounding the lake lends itself to grape cultivation and wine-making.
Two of the more famous local wines are Bardolino and Bianco di Custoza. These wines come from the Riviera Veronese in Lake Garda and are exported to and enjoyed all over the world. Bardolino is a red wine that comes in several versions including Novello, Chiaretto, and Classico. Diners can also enjoy the Bianco di Custoza, Lugana, and Valdadige wines.
Lugana fine sparkling wines are quite popular in Lake Garda. Lugana wines have a subtle taste and are best enjoyed when chilled and served with appetizers and fish. This wine is chiefly made with Trebbiano grapes. It is worth noting that the Trebbiano grapes from Lugana are slightly different from the Trebbiano grapes in Tuscany.
While visiting Lake Garda, consider adding wine tasting to your itinerary. This part of Italy is filled with many wine routes where visitors can see the cellars, enjoy tastings, and then buy wine directly from the vineyards. It is a uniquely Italian wine experience.
The northern tip of Lake Garda, which resides in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, is known for its distillation, which dates back to ancient times. The most revered product of this tradition is grappa. Depending on the producer, grappa can be flavored with various ingredients, including berries, herbs, and dried roots.
If you are not already making plans to visit Lake Garda, make them now. The majestic Dolomite Mountains, the gorgeous blue water, and the delicious cuisine all combine to make Lake Garda a lovely once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience.