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To Beef or Not to Beef

The Officina della Bistecca and Dario Cecchini’s
philosophy of butchering

To meet Dario Cecchini, the owner of the Antica Macelleria in Panzano in Chianti, is worth every kilometer on the windiest road in Tuscany. Following in the footsteps of 8 generations of Cecchini butchers, the Ulysses of meat, how he likes to call himself is the personification of the “divina cucina di carne”. Anyone who thought the Argentinians or Americans cook the best steaks, has never had a taste of Dario’s heavenly Florentine steaks.

The recommendation to get a seat at Dario Cecchini’s table came from a Florentine friend, but it also came with an expectation warning to not be disappointed if nothing is available since tables are booked weeks in advance. So, one day before our only chance to stop at this Tuscany institution our luck ran true in the form of a forecast for rain that turned into a sunny day and available seats on the outdoor terrace.

Not really knowing what to expect (except for the best meat in the region) what we received exceeded anything we could have imagined. To call a meal at the Officina della Bistecca lunch or dinner would be an insult to the “foodtainment” we experienced. I am not sure we will ever be able to replicate the conditions of our first visit. The date was April 25th, which in Italy is their WWII Liberation Day. All two of the main streets of Panzano were packed with cars and people. If it wasn’t for all the Hells Angels of Chianti, we might have missed the Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

outsideThe simple entrance of the Macelleria on the street level is split into a small dinning area and a full service meat counter with it’s own bar playing heavy metal music. At first, we didn’t know where to enter past the bustling crowd or even who to ask about our miracle reservation. We finally settled on asking the butcher at the counter who directed us to the back of the shop where we could only see a door to the meat locker. Squeezing past more of the Chianti Chapter Angels rocking out to Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine while eating and drinking some Chianti red, we noticed a plain sliding door tucked in the back left corner of the room. The gatekeeper behind the door checked us off the list, admitted us up a narrow flight of stairs past the indoor dinning area to the outdoor terrace. Yeah!

Set up like an Italian wedding from the 50’s were two long tables that would have been at home in any beer hall complete with place mats describing the table setvarious cuts of meat on a cow and not one-centimeter spare distance between you and your neighbor – this was our final destination.

Being a bit early to the feast, we had our choice of where to sit and choose a comfortable place at the far end of the table. There were bowls filled with carrots, celery and red onion rings, a simple bean soup, baked potatoes and bread for sides. Even the salt was special consisting of Cecchini’s own mix of salt and herbs perfect for everything on the table. With the table menuset, we were about to begin.

The opening act was a Chianti crudo, apparently one of Dario’s signature dishes. Even if you don’t like raw meat, I can guarantee you, it’s the best beef tartar you will ever try. Next up was the Carpaccio di culo (bum cut) quickly followed by the third course of Costata alla Fiorentina (Bone-in Rib eye or Strip steak). This was followed by my personal favorite, the Bistecca Panzanese.

“Ladies and gentleman, I gave you the Chianti Tuna, not sushi of the fish, but the sushi del Chianti, and now…. I am presenting to you… her majesty, the Biiiiistecca alla Fiorentinaaaaaa!”

Just when you think it cannot get any better, Angelo, the master of grill, stepped out onto the terrace and lifted his hands, holding two big chucks of meat in serviettes, yelling to the crowed:

DSC00213… and that is the moment, when you can feel the never ending wine, the comfortable and friendly atmosphere, that the friends (strangers no more) who with you share this unforgettable meal go absolutely ballistic! It somehow manages to get even louder when Dario Cecchini comes out to take his bow, blowing a loud horn, giving hugs, kisses, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

The meat seems to be never ending, but when it finally stops coming to the table, the meal is finished off with an extraordinary olive oil cake (sounds much stranger than it is – a real must try), coffee and grappa. All of this you get for 50 Euro a person – a simply unbeatable value for the price.

Dario is indeed a butcher extraordinaire, a theatrical host and an artist who butchers animals to the sound of heavy metal rock music (maybe this helps to explain the Hells Angels on the day of our visit), and has developed a stage act where he butchers an entire carcass while quoting from the works of Dante. Dario is a true example of how a career with a heart, passion for ones work, for food and for the animals can result in tastes and flavors that are not only authentic, but truly poetic.

Tips:
Dario Cecchini has three restaurants in Panzano.

Make your reservation long enough in advance.