Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Day in Chianti


Dario Cecchini is the Pied Piper of beef; specifically Chianina beef from Tuscany.  Headquartered in the tiny town of Panzano in the heart of Chianti, his matchbox of a store sells his wares, and he sells to restaurants, and the people who come from far and wide to buy his meats, sausages, salamis, and his “perfumo di Chianti”, basically Dario’s season salt—which is awesome!   Dressed in a white shirt, leather vest, red pants, red crocs, and a red scarf, he is larger than life, even in person!

If you have read the book Heat, you have read about Dario; the son of a butcher, who would rather be studying the classics than butchering as a young man, he left University when his father died to take over the family business.  Dario is known to quote Dante, and sing arias while he's working, but while we were there his only musical notes were tooted on some kind of hunting horn that sounded like a vuvuzella.  When I describe Italians, I describe them as passionate, and Dario and his band of merry men and women are definitely passionate about life, their work, and the place they live.  Dario’s wife Kim arranged for our “butcher in a day” tour, and it was more than we could have imagined.  
Off we go to see the cows!

Brand new one!
We started with our new best friends, Nicola and Ricardo taking us to the cows, seeing the white cattle raised by Giovanni Manetti; then went to the Fontodi vineyard where they are growing grapes biodynamically, and of course did a bit of tasting. 

Vines are hand picked and then sorted by hand by WOMEN because, in the words of our guide, women are pickier! You know it!

Ricardo, one of our new best friends!  Ricardo runs things at Dario's

Our other new best friend, Nicola, who was our guide---perfect English too!

So much wine, and so little time, it's time to go cut some beef!

Just a little tasting; Chianti classico
Then to the meat fabrication area (separate from the shop and restaurants) Here we met Liam who is studying butchery with Dario and Orlando (in the book Heat, Orlando is the Maestro and taught Dario how to butcher)—we donned polar fleece, and stepped into the walk in coolers where they were fabricating (cutting ) the beef.  Dario prides himself on the freshness of the meat, and serves a lot of things raw—they make what they call beef “sushi” which is like steak tartare only so much better!  We were asked not to share photographs from the fabrication area, and I am respecting that request, but I will tell you I got some really great shots!

This is from the cold room at the store, not the fabrication area (keeping my promise!)
Liam fabricated half a side of beef for us, showing us the cuts they make and use here.  Nothing is wasted, they use the nose to the tail, and everything in between.  At this point, I should say that this is hard work, and these men and women work all day long, cutting up the beef.  It’s then put into vacuum bags, and refrigerated until it is sold.  
Lardo--no words to describe how amazing this is!
After our fabrication lesson we headed back to the shop where we prepared sausages for the day.  Keep in mind this is a tourist attraction, so there are people lined up out the door….just to see Dario, be in his presence, and to get a glimpse of the beautiful meat display. 

And, yes, those are little meatloaves!

Visitors are greeted as they walk in with a small glass of Chianti and some tasting samples along with Dario doing his thing, which is butchering meat.  

We headed back to the sausage prep area, and proceeded to grind the pork and fat together, and get it ready for its seasonings. 

With Nicola and Kellie--our aprons look so clean!
Grinding the pork

23 kilos
This is where it got to be interesting---only Dario can season the sausage, so we went to him and he ground garlic cloves, and then seasoned the sausage with their special seasoning, Sicilian sea salt and pepper that is ground to a fine powder along with a few undisclosed herbs.  

Perfumo di Chianti--way better than the Colonel's seasonings and you can buy it!

Ground garlic

Adding just enough

OK, let's do this thing!

Ricardo and Kellie getting down with the sausage

You massage this sausage till it no longer looks like ground meat--amazing what happens

There is a formula for the salt/pepper thing but it was all in metric, and way too much for me to break down (we had 23 kilos of meat)  they only use natural casings, which they soak in vinegar and then rinse. 
This is easy--our aprons are now trashed!

Miko helping us tie the sausages--he has a nifty little tool that makes it simple

Nicola helping Kellie---being dyslexic I passed on this, I'd rather mess it up at home!
They plugged in the casings, and we made sausages!  This was simple, I will be making it at home. I bought the special seasoning so I’m ready! 
Then it was time for lunch, by this time we were starving, but with 6 to 8 courses of meat, it was a long, and delicious lunch which none of us could finish. 

The captain of the grill

Lunch--we ate more meat in 2 1/2 hours than I think I've eaten in the past year!
But then they came out with Simonetta’s famous olive oil cake which I will try to make when I get back to the Enoteca in Spello.  The recipe is for 4 of these cakes that are as big as a manhole cover, so the recipe contains 90 eggs and 1.5 liters of oil---as I said, I’ll cut it down and publish it when I’ve got it perfected. 
After lunch, we waddled downstairs to the butcher shop to watch Dario in action (I can't get enough of this stuff) said goodbye, Dario signed our aprons (they do not sell the aprons, you have to earn them) and we were on our way to Florence after a magical day in the beautiful city of Panzano.  

Amazing day with the crew at Dario Cecchini---GRAZIE!
If you are serious about food, and please don’t call yourself a “foodie”; but if you are someone who buys grass fed beef, drinks organic wines and cooks with organic and local ingredients, this is a place to visit---it’s out of the way, but worth the trip just to have lunch, and enjoy the best that Tuscany has to offer.  Grazie Dario, Kim, Orlando, Liam, Nicola, Ricardo, Miko and the rest of the passionate band that makes this place so special.  

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