Now eaten around the world as well in most of Italy, its origins are mysterious. I have read on a couple of Piedmont blogs in Italian that it is definitely originally from that region, and would say this seems very likely as the Piedmont region, bordering France as it does, is the only one where cream occasionally features in the cuisine.
In general in Italy there is a belief that milk is intended for the nutrition of babies and young animals, that milk is difficult for the adult stomach to digest, and the same goes for cream. This is why Italians tend not to drink Cappuccino after meals and why there are no "cream sauces" for pasta in Italy - at most, here in Emila-Romagna, just a a tablespoon or two of precious cream is used to bind a pasta sauce serving 4 to 6 people.
The brief references to its origin that I have come across, say that it was in invented in the early 1900s by a lady of Hungarian origin living in the Langhe area of Piedmont. Though in my Piedmont cookbook the recipe (La Panna Cotta del Antico Piemonte) is said to have been known in the region since the Middle ages.
Be that as it may.........I like my Panna Cotta simple: white and with berries, at most with some other fruit. I do not like it with chocolate or caramel sauce, as it is often served in Italy, and none of the many variations created by chefs and restaurants in Italy and beyond stand up to the original for me. Above is my favourite summer version, with tiny wild mountain blueberries.
In winter I might serve it with Bologna's famous wild sour cherries in syrup, the Amarena Fabbri as above, in late summer with grapes, in the fall with persimmons, but I love it most of all right now, in fresh berry season! Read on for the recipe.