Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Butchershop photo courtesy Dario Cecchini
The Greatest Butcher in the World
If you are a confirmed carnivore, like me, there is one town in Italy, you absolutely have to visit.
No… it’s not Rome, or Venice or Florence or Milan or even Turin. The town is called Panzano and is a small medieval village, surrounded by the Tuscan countryside in the center of the Chianti region between Florence and Siena. It is the home base of “The Greatest Butcher in the World” Dario Cecchini. He has earned a world-wide reputation for butchering and grilling to perfection enormous slabs of prime beef.
I first met Dario 10 years ago, during a press trip sponsored by the Consorzio Chianti Classico.
Dario is the eight-generations butcher that runs Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a butcher shop his family has owned for more than 260 years in the center of Panzano. He now also runs 2 1/2 local restaurants, plus a culinary empire with partners in the US, the Bahamas, Dubai and more recently Bodrum, Turkey.
Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, introduced Dario to the world market and he hasn’t looked back since.
Officina della Bistecca, the restaurant upstairs from the butcher shop, is open now only at night. The table d’hôte menu includes Beef Tartare, seared Rump Carpaccio, Costata alla Fiorentina i.e. bone-in ribeye, Bistecca Panzanese, and the famous Bistecca Fiorentina plus village bread and traditional Tuscan salads and bean dishes in addition to the meats; all served on communal long tables, family-style. Dario only serves a set menu, so you can eat as much or as little as you want, and it is all-inclusive at €50 per person. He says that the charge is for the seat rental, not for the food and wine!
He includes a fruity table wine in traditional fiaschi (straw-covered bottles), or some of his own grappa, although you can bring your own wine and if you do, they don’t charge a corkage fee.
Note to my vegetarian friends:
Eating in Italy is very serious business. When it comes to food, Italians are purists. In that country, there is no transgression more serious than a culinary faux pas. Shunning Florence's eponymous dish, the Bistecca Fiorentina, is to commit a sin more grave than piling ketchup on a pasta dish or having cappuccino with a meal.
Mac Dario is a glorified Tuscan fast food emporium (hamburgers plus salad and potatoes, and there is also a vegetarian option) using the same space and kitchen during the day as Officina della Bistecca and serving dishes for €10 to €20 per person. It is open every day except for Christmas. It requires a reservation. And talking about vegetarian options… while many steakhouses offer perfectly decent vegetarian and even vegan options these days, avoiding meat in an establishment like Dario’s is likely going to be an embarrassing experience. It's a move that will only make you seem to everyone else, egotistical and self-important.
SoloCiccia or Solo Ciccia (only meat), across the street from the butcher shop, is a reservations-only eatery that Dario calls “his butcher’s kitchen.” Officina della Bistecca and SoloCiccia are booked months in advance so make sure you have a reservation for any of these restaurants if you are in the area and wish to try Dario’s beef.
His recipes are based on Tuscan cucina primitiva but his best known offering is Bistecca Fiorentina, a steak famous in Tuscany and the world; a giant, two-to-three-inch thick porterhouse steak, cooked on a grill over a wood-burning fire. Cecchini explained to me his thinking on cucina primitiva. “This cooking goes very far back, almost to Paleolithic times, and it is simple cooking. But the simplest things are always the hardest to get just right.” Costata alla Fiorentina is as tasty as the Bistecca, but it’s a thiner cut.
In Italy, dining may seem like a casual, carefree pursuit, but in reality it is an intricate sport of manners, with origins dating back to the publication of Giovanni Della Casa’s Galateo in the 16th-century: Treatise on the Rules of Polite Behavior.
The famous butcher repeatedly emphasizes the idea that all parts of the animal must be used; a concept reinforced by his sense of responsibility and his idea that to waste any part, is an insult to the life of the animal.
The beef and pork served in Dario’s Panzano restaurants are usually of no specific breed and are raised responsibly and lovingly in Catalonia, Spain, at the Pyrenees National Park. Meat also comes from the the Chianti region, from the Manetti family owners of the Fontodi farm and winery in Panzano, which I also visited to see “T-bones-on-the-hoof” and try their outstanding wines.
Dario is a showman with a bubbly personality who has done a lot to promote Panzano and traditional Tuscan food around the world. His butcher shop has become a tourist attraction. Antica Macelleria Cecchini and SoloCiccia, have now received a recognition for excellence by being included in the 2022 Michelin Guide, Italy. But what keeps people coming back is the excellence of the beef!
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