This summer, on a much-needed vacation in Italy, the family and I drove to one of the most famous restaurants in Tuscany. Antica Macelleria Cecchini, is one of the oldest family owned butchers in Tuscany, in the heart of Chianti. But it is more than just a Butcher shop, located in the town of Panzano, this place blossoms like a flower. Known primarily for their monumental sized Bistecca Fiorentina and even more so by the proprietor Dario Cecchini, a larger than life character, seen on many of the food channel shows and documentaries. Dario comes from a family of Butchers over 600 years old in fact. Dante Aligheri and Leonardo Da Vinci were noted patrons to the Cecchini family butchers shop, still located in the same place.
Dario and his wife Kim could not have been more gracious host for a wonderful evening.
We reserved a table at the Officina della Bistecca where the guests are warned to bring a large appetite. This did not disappoint. First, upon arrival we were greeted with glasses of local Chianti and an assortment of Dario’s fresh salami, “Tuscan Butter” on toast which is whipped Lardo and seasonings).
As we were in awe of the goodness before us, Dario enters, from an adjacent room where he was being filmed for yet another food show. Dario, the host has an infectious smile and although seemingly busy as a Bee, he and his wife Kim took the time to greet us immediately and make us feel at home.
The meal itself was an experience of a lifetime, the center of attention being a huge platter of beef, including the main attraction “Bistecca Fiorentina”, a huge 4 inch thick cut of Porterhouse goodness. The steak for bistecca Fiorentina used to be primarily made from Chianina cows but as it has become expensive, many restaurants now use less expensive beef. Dario though has been instrumental in bringing back the use of Chianina cows to the Tuscan region. Since childhood, Dario has been friends with Giovanni Manetti, the owner of Fontodi winery. Giovanni raises, naturally, about 30 Chianina cows and 1 bull on his estate. While visiting the winery, we also got to see his cattle. Giovanni provides Dario with one cow per month for his restaurant and he does not sell his cows to anyone else. When Giovanni was a small boy, his father used to own about 100 cows, and Giovanni is caring on a family tradition. The Chianina breed may extend back to the ancient Etruscans and they have long been revered for their beauty and expressiveness. They may have originated in the Val di Chiana, from which they derive their name, which once was a fertile plan where they could easily graze. Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, the nearby rivers flooded, turning the plain in swampland so the cows had to move elsewhere in Tuscany. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the swamps were drained and the plains became fertile once again.
We ate Beef in many forms from a totally raw, beef sushi, to a seared meatball, to charcoal grilled cuts of beef was fantastic in every way. In the end, we left feeling like we had gained a few pounds, and new friends and had a real experience of a lifetime. Fantastic!!