Published with permission from LuxuryWeb.com
If your palate craves meat, then there’s a destination in Italy that is absolutely a must-visit, and no, it’s not Rome, Venice, or Milan. The place in question is Panzano-in-Chianti, a quaint medieval village nestled in the verdant Tuscan countryside, right at the heart of the Chianti region between Florence and Siena.
This small town is the proud home to Dario Cecchini — globally recognized as “The Greatest Butcher in the World.” Renowned for his expert butchering skills and for grilling huge cuts of prime beef to absolute perfection, Cecchini is regarded as a master of his craft, and is beloved by carnivores everywhere.
My first encounter with Dario took place 12 years ago, during a press trip of the Consorzio Chianti Classico. Dario, an eighth-generation butcher, manages Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a butcher shop that has been in his family for over 260 years, located in the heart of Panzano. He also oversees two local restaurants, as well as an international culinary empire with partners in the US, the Bahamas, Dubai, and most recently, Bodrum, Turkey.
Dario was first brought into the global limelight by Alice Waters, the famous chef of Chez Panisse, and his fame has only grown since. Officina della Bistecca, situated above his butcher shop and now open only in the evenings, offers a table d’hôte menu featuring dishes such as Beef Tartare, seared Rump Carpaccio, Costata alla Fiorentina (bone-in ribeye), Bistecca Panzanese, and the iconic Bistecca Fiorentina. Traditional Tuscan salads and bean dishes complement the meats, all served family-style on communal long tables.
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The set menu, inclusive of everything for €50 per person, allows you to eat to your heart’s content. Dario’s philosophy is that they charge for the seat rental, not for the food and wine.
Included in this offering is a fruity table wine served in traditional straw-covered glass flasks, as well as a little of his homemade grappa. You are welcome to bring your own wine, and there’s no corkage fee.
A word of caution to my vegetarian acquaintances: culinary matters are taken seriously in Italy, and committing a culinary misstep is a significant transgression. Vegans and vegetarians are advised not to attempt dining at these establishments. Bypassing Florence’s namesake dish, the Bistecca Fiorentina, would be almost as sacrilegious as ordering a cappuccino during the meal.
Across the street from the butcher shop lies SoloCiccia (only meat), a reservation-only restaurant that Dario terms “his butcher’s kitchen”. Both Officina della Bistecca and SoloCiccia are usually booked months in advance, so do ensure a reservation if you plan to savor Dario’s renowned beef while in the area.
Dario’s recipes are rooted in Tuscan cucina primitiva, with the Bistecca Fiorentina, a thick cut porterhouse steak grilled over a wood-burning fire, being the most famous. Cecchini shared his philosophy of cucina primitiva with me. “The cooking harks back to the Paleolithic era and is simple, yet it’s often the simplest things that are the hardest to perfect.”
Dario frequently underscores the importance of utilizing every part of the animal, a reflection of his sense of responsibility and belief that wasting any part is a dishonor to the life of the animal.
The beef served in Dario’s Panzano establishments is responsibly and compassionately raised on a farm in Catalonia, Spain, near the Pyrenees National Park. Additionally, in Chianti, the meat comes from the Manetti family-owned Fontodi farm and winery in Panzano, which I also visited to see the famous “T-bones-on-the-hoof” and sample their exquisite wines.
Dario — a charismatic showman, with a bubbly personality — has made significant contributions to promoting Panzano and traditional Tuscan cuisine worldwide. His butcher shop has become a tourist attraction, and SoloCiccia has earned recognition for excellence in the 2022 Michelin Guide, Italy. But the consistent lure drawing people back is undoubtedly the unparalleled quality of his beef!
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