Olivia Auerbach '14
Panzano is also the home to Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher in Italy, and arguably the world. His store, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, which lies to the right of the cobblestone square, is a culinary Mecca for anyone with a penchant for meat.
At 20 years old, Dario dropped out of university and returned to Panzano to reinvent and continue his family’s business and has been there ever since. When you hear people talk about Dario you will notice that his reputation as a butcher is inextricably linked with his reputation as a thespian; a man famous for reciting Dante’s Inferno or singing Pavarotti while he strikes his kitchen-axe splitting a cow’s loin in two. Like an encouraging friend, the alabaster bust of Dante is perched atop of the highest counter in the store staring down approvingly at Dario and his famous paper-thin prosciutto. Dario holds a steak like Rabbi would hold the Torah, careful and appreciative of its power and importance. He has a maniacal but inviting grin and the largest hands I’ve ever seen; wide and imposing like a gigantic muscular starfish.
Dario sees butchery as a moral activity. “The most important thing is what the animal eats and that it has a good life . . . just like us. My philosophy is that the cow has to have had a really good life with the least suffering possible," he says. "And every cut has to be cooked using the best cooking method. It's a matter of respect. If I come back as a cow, I want to have the best butcher.” Dario’s cooking methods are traditional and even date back to the renaissance. He grew up in a family of butchers “…and what we ate growing up was what we couldn't sell in the store. But my mother was a wonderful cook, and my grandmother was a wonderful cook, and we always ate well."
Dario became a real celebrity in 2001, during the climax of the mad-cow crisis. He was so outraged and personally offended by people thinking his meat was tainted that he staged, what is now referred to as the “Funeral of La Bifstecca”. He laid a dead cow in a colossal casket and led a procession throughout the entire village of Panzano. The service ended like a feverish scene from Sotheby’s; Dario auctioned off the few remaining legal pieces of meat to the highest bidder. His performance didn’t take long to be noticed by the public. News agencies and reporters were begging Dario for an interview, and soon enough his Funeral of La Bifstecca went viral (which in 2001 took around and three weeks).
Dario has been a close friend of my family ever since my parents bought Ca di Pesa. He always greets each one of us with a lung-collapsing hug and never forgets to kiss my father right on the lips. When we first met Dario his home was just his butcher shop, but starting around five years ago his empire has expanded with two restaurants; one above the butcher shop and the other in the basement. One of the restaurant’s success, “MacDarios”, is such a tremendous feat for an Italian restaurant because the menu is comprised of one of the least traditional Tuscan meals: the hamburger. However, the MacDario burger is still idiosyncratic to classical Tuscan cuisine. There are no squishy buns or Kraft cheese, but a ground piece of meat laden with chopped rosemary and onions, and he substitutes “ketchup” with his original creamy pomodoro sauce or spicy pepper-jelly.
Dario’s other restaurant; “Solo Ciccio” which translates to “just meat” is a meal for the carnivores with a menu that consists of an intimidating 5 courses of steak. "We use everything but the moo -- and the steak," he says. Just like any prolific artist Dario wants to your subvert expectations. Solo Ciccio makes you reconsider what should be the best and most coveted cuts of the animal. "When people learn all the different ways to cook the different cuts, the fillet is the last thing they want. It's beef for beginners." Some his iconic dishes are the boiled beef knees served with his salsa verde, or his “Chianti sushi” where pork is prepared and preserved in olive oil, like tuna typically is.
His theatrical presence is paramount to the Solo Ciccio experience. At the beginning of the meal he slowly appears from the kitchen, clutching a massive steak in each hand. The steaks are perfect, like red and white marbled heart-shaped tiles. They look as ideal and delicious as a T-bone that emerges in the thought bubble of a ravenous cartoon lion. Then looking as serious as any brooding Hamlet, he takes a breath and with crusading urgency screams “To beef or not to beef?” and hurls the steaks into the fire. And just like that, the meal has begun.