Who would have thought that a vegetarian like me would write a blog on meat! Noooo, I haven’t turned carnivorous, but am always fascinated by personalities and live in a region full of traditions that I like to share with you.
Dario Cecchini is definitely one of those personalities, and on a recent hike in the Chianti area I came across him, chatting outside his shop on a Sunday morning. I had just parked the car in Panzano in Chianti and was walking toward the café to meet the other hikers along the street of his famous butcher’s shop. Cecchini is the 8th generation of butchers in his family and certainly under his guidance and inspiration the Antica butcher’s shop has expanded and gained notoriety.
I first learnt about Cecchini in 2001 during the ‘crazy cow’ period when the Florentine T bone steak went off the menu. He held a mock funeral in the village, complete with a coffin containing a long spine of beef , a distressed widow and a line of mourners. He auctioned off the last T bone steaks to locals and celebrities like Elton John and Prince Charles and gave the money to charity. He’s that sort of guy, wildly extrovert and generous.
Back in business after the ban lifted he appeared for a while on a TV spot giving ‘how to cook meat” recipes in his funny colloquial Tuscan dialect and flamboyant style. Filmed in his shop, an elderly lady phoned the TV station to say the two statues depicting damned souls in purgatory that appeared on either side of his counter had been stolen from her little church in Piedmont! Again Cecchini was in the news, declaring innocently that he had bought them from an antique dealer and lucky for him he still had the receipt. The suspect antique dealer finished in court!
He is well-known to Jamie Oliver and a regular supplier to Sting who has a country house in the Chianti area.
He now has 3 restaurants in Panzano and the street is bizarrely decorated with fake steaks and colourful cow statues. One is called “Solo Ciccia” Tuscan slang for “Only Meat” and the other “MacDario” where he serves mostly burgers with roast potatoes and no roll.
Not long after the day in Panzano I was dining downtown in a Jewish vegetarian restaurant and he was there with a group of American students having a great time. He was outrageously dressed in colours of the Italian flag, green pants, white shirt, red bandana, tricolour buttons, green crocs, even his socks which he proudly flashed when he came over to greet me! Such a sociable character, his generous grin radiates warmth; it’s hard not to like him even for a vegetarian.
And to his credit that he has created such an empire, yet remained faithful to his Tuscan traditions and his local village. His enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and he has certainly done much to promote the area and local food specialities.
As he says in his video “Food is something very serious. It’s what nourishes our lives. And meat is something even more serious because it involves killing an animal to feed ourselves” For a man who gave up his studies as a vet to look after his siblings on the premature death of his father, he has a better understanding than most.