When my good friend from college, Julie, told me she started a blog, I was very excited. You see, Julie and her husband, Scott, go on fantastic trips all over the world. Julie is an amazing writer and Scott takes gorgeous photos. This makes for a fantabulous travel blog, My Roving I. Like a new parent, Julie did not want to leave her blog unattended while they were on their latest trip to Italy, so she asked me to do some guest posts so the space would remain active. It was fun to write about my home town, St. Louis... see this post to see all the entries I made.
While it was my pleasure to do these guest posts, Julie insisted that she reciprocate with a guest post here on Iron Stef. I am not going to say "no" to that opportunity! When Julie sent me a draft late last night, I knew there was something familiar about this butcher, Dario, she wrote about. Then it hit me! He's the dude from Bill Buford's book, Heat!! This is one of my favorite food books ever!! Dario has also appeared on No Reservations, my favorite food show. I am absolutely green with envy that Julie and Scott got to meet Dario and dine on his meat. Enjoy this, people. This post is special :)
There’s a restaurant deep in Chianti Country that serves six meat-only courses for dinner. I first read about Dario Cecchini
and his restaurant Solociccia on the plane on our way to Italy and then, I read about it again.
Most days, I make for a pretty sad carnivore. Salads are my go-tos. I often order chicken, bison and turkey in place of beef. I’ve even been known to resort to the occasional veggie burger. Weak, I know. But the description of the “Butcher of Tuscany” had me hungry to learn more.
I arrived in Tuscany famished, fatigued and intrigued by my memory of the short article I had read the night before. Further investigation was required. But it wasn't until day two of exploring the Tuscan hills that I got to meet the famous meat purveyor himself.
Photo: Dario Cecchini
The town of Panzano is pure Tuscan perfection. Perched somewhere between Greve in Chianti and Castellina in Chianti on the Chiantigana Highway (there's a theme here), it's hillside location, picturesque small square and gourmet reputation had me ready to fling myself out the Fiat before we even parked.
Dario’s famed butcher shop Antica Macelleria Cecchini is impossible to miss - not because of the bright red and white stripes on the outside of the building or the iconic, hanging, red strings in the doorway but because of the blaring opera music spilling out of the doorway onto the street.
Photo: Scott Clark
Inside, Dario himself was at work, cutting through cuts of beef as deep red as the characteristic Chianti wine of the region and singing along with the tenor. If it wasn’t so wonderfully Tuscan, I may have been a bit unnerved. But this was a true artisan working with his medium of meat and carefully perfecting his craft. I couldn’t help but watch his precise slicing skills in action.
Since it was Tuesday and his other two restaurants were closed for lunch, we decided to try Dario+. It’s Dario’s “faster food” restaurant complete with only two menu items – minimalistic meat choices of unsurpassed quality in tremendous portions. Si, per favore.
After inquiring with Dario’s staff, we were led through the back of the shop through a sliding door to a secret staircase. A short climb later, we were given two other choices: the cozy communal table inside or the open, shaded communal table outdoors. We chose the latter.
With only two lunch offerings, it didn’t take us long to decide. We ordered one Dario to share. It arrived as a massive mound of medium rare meat, beautifully accompanied by garlic and sage potatoes and Tuscan vegetables. An array of condiments including Chianti Ketchup, chili sauce, mustard and a special salt mixture called “Profumo del Chianti” invited exploration.
The first bite of the burger did not disappoint. Neither did any bite afterwards. It was the most delectable burger I’ve ever eaten. The meat simply melted in my mouth – something I’ve never experienced before. I was in deep in food love and I savored every last morsel of it.
While one burger’s portion size is plenty for two people, its pure taste leaves you wanting more. But when the plates were taken away and the last drop of wine gone, we left our lovely little lunch location behind and headed back down the stairs through the butcher shop.
It was there I purchased a tiny jar of Dario’s Profumo del Chianti or “essence of Tuscany” to take home with me. Here’s what he says about its origins:
“I took the best sea salt I know, Sicilian, and I married it with the aromatic herbs of Tuscany, letting instinct be my guide to finding the right balance. ?Sage, lavender, thyme, rosemary, laurel, fennel pollen and juniper. The Tuscan elders who tasted my "Profumo" tell me that is has the scent of the forest and of the fields in summer, the scent of "family.” I was moved that maybe I too, was one of them. Use it as you like, to season a steak, or on a bruschetta of grilled bread with olive oil. Let the scent remind you of us, when you are far away. These are the emotions that help to understand life.”
Thank you, Dario. I think I know what you mean.
Dario Cecchini’s Three Restaurants:
Didn’t make it here this trip, but it’s on the menu for the next one. Six meat-only courses can’t be anything but amazing. Located at Via XX Luglio/Via Chiantigana 5 in Panzano, directly across from the butcher shop.
L’Officina della Bistecca:
Or “The Steak Shop” is where to go for ginormous, marvelously meaty steaks. Also located at Via XX Luglio in Panzano.
Not to be missed for a midday meal. Lunch is the only meal served here but when it’s done this right, you don’t need anything else. Located above the butcher shop.