Feasting at the Officina della Bistecca

Theater, Meat, and a Rollicking Good Time in Tuscany

officina della bistecca
Feasting at the Officina della Bistecca

I’m going to tell you a tale of celebrating life while eating meat. Our meal starts with Pinzimonio, vegetables to save your meat-eating soul, and slides toward a finish with big hunks of bistecca, beefsteak, which we would likely call the T-Bone.

If you watch any foodie television show in the universe, you know the Dante Quoting Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini. He’s an advocate of primitive feasting, a devotee of Dante, a Tuscan who buys his cattle from Spain, and a man who longed to recreate the big family meals he ate with his father’s business associates and assorted friends.

Mr Cecchini’s little corner of Panzano might be thought of as a university of cow studies. The place jumps with tourists during the day, then becomes quieter as folks find (not without some difficulty) the room of the restaurant they’ve reserved. One Dario restaurant, Solociccia, is devoted to the cuts of beef you need to spend considerable time with to make them soft enough for consumption. It’s to teach you what to do with all the other cuts folks don’t come to his butcher shop for, but are big on flavor once you know what to do with them. After all, the butcher can’t keep hacking off beefsteaks for all the customers without selling the rest.

Then there’s the Officina della Bistecca. That’s for the high-spenders who really want to dabble in the prime cuts of grass fed beef but don’t want to have to dress up to get it. One long table dominates the room, with a couple of huge grills in the center of one wall, bathrooms opposite. You feast together. You get to know your neighbors. You get to laugh at them when they try to find the bathrooms.

When you arrive you’ll see the big beef spread out on a block in the center of the table. Bowls of fennel and carrot share space with the olive oil and fiascos of ordinary wine, the kind the country folk guzzle. You may be seated firmly in the heart of prime Chianti country, but not everyone here can afford the pricey, international grape squeezings that Chianto Classico farmers can turn into gold. Not at a meal of prime cuts, one after another, that costs a mere 50 euros out the door anyway. If you really have to have snazzy wine, you can bring your own, there’s no corkage fee.

I won’t bore you with the many courses.You can find them listed on the website. But the last one—that one is the special one. Dario comes out with the clown trumpets attached to his belt and does the thing you see on his shows where he blasts you with sound and announces the bistecca. The crowd, as they say, goes nuts. This is theater, folks, the best kind. And the popcorn has been replaced by real food.

Forget what you know about fine dining. Use your hands. Rip into that steak, canines ablaze. You’ve already left your worries in the street, the wine took care of that. We witnessed an Aussie food fight during our meal. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend that but nobody got arrested.

I will also ask that you forget another thing. Long cooking times. The steak is served rare. You might get away with asking for it medium-rare, but there’s a vegetarian menu for the rest of you. The meat is grass fed. It doesn’t have the inter-muscular fat of a cow fed on what it doesn’t like to eat, say corn. So you’ll be chewing for a week of Sundays if you order it overdone.

dario cecchini
Dario Cecchini with people from all over.

Cows. From Spain?

Ok, so over the years you know that Dario has been kind of a stickler at times for authentic Tuscan local cuisine. So what’s with the cows from Spain thing? (You’ll be happy to know that a guy named Zach Nowak from Harvard has studied this phenomenon, and it’s from a guest lecture at Connecticut College that the quotes below are drawn.)

I asked Dario why he didn’t use local beef, and I could tell by his expression that it was the millionth time a locavore had put that question to him. “I could have local beef here in my shop and restaurant. I could buy local cows and have maybe not mile zero meat, but maybe two-mile meat. But that’s the problem: it’s two-mile meat, but what about the grain to make it?” The problem, as Dario explained to me, is that Chianti is Italy’s most famous type of wine. I’ll ask you: if you owned four acres of land in Chianti, would you pasture five or six cows, or makes several thousand bottles of Chianti wine? Four acres of wine grapes can make someone a lot more money than four acres of pasture.

So the thing is, if Dario had gotten his cows from locals, he’d have to import grain to feed them. Lots of grain. So…cue the vegetarians who’d jump into the orchestra pit and have their way with folks who’d use perfectly edible grain to feed cattle inefficiently.

To avoid the endless battle, let’s admit that the cow wants abundant pasturage to eat like it was born to eat. Grasses that we don’t have to eat until the next crash of the economy. Grain fed beef? Harumph.

Where is this grain from? From the Great Plains of Canada, the US, Argentina, and even India. Your cows are local, but all that grain they’re eating is not. And grain is an energy-intensive food. While a grass pasture doesn’t have to be plowed, planted, fertilized, or harvested, growing grain is an incredibly oil-intensive process. We think of a vegetarian diet based on cereals as more natural and low-energy, but I can tell you that growing grain the way we do now needs a lot of energy. Tractors have to plow the land, plant the seeds, fertilize, and harvest. That requires a lot of fossil fuels.

We don’t usually think about this, but a grass-fed animal can be an incredibly sustainable meal. Cecchini’s cows in Catalonia eat grass eleven months a year. This is what we want our meat production to look like. ~ The Myth of Eat Local: The Case of Tuscan Butcher Dario Cecchini.

Officina della Bistecca, the Bottom Line

Our party of six was well-satisfied with the meal, the theater, and the three and a half hour lunch.

For more, see the website

Y’all go out and have yourselves a heapin’ helpin’ of sustainable hedonism, ok?

Feasting at the Officina della Bistecca originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Dec 29, 2019 © .

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