Is Dario the Best Butcher in the World?
Craft butchers are nothing new. The meat-centric artisans have sharpened their knives for well, ever since butchering started. They focus not just on skill and precision, but on best pasture practices and ethical treatment of animals, and they are disappearing artisans. Somehow, as we eased into efficiency and pre-made, we’ve forgotten about how amazing a great butcher can be. Not Dario Cecchini – Italy’s best butcher has been heralding craft butchery since he first stepped up to the counter.
In Panzano in Chianti, a picture-perfect hill town in Tuscany, Cecchini has devoted his life to making good cuts as well as raising good beef (though his cattle resides on a farm in Spain). His tiny butcher shop is still the same address as it was when his father and grandfather were slicing and dicing (Cecchini is an 8th generation butcher), but he’s got a little more on his plate.
If you walk around town around noon or dinner time, you’ll find crowds of people from all around the world and Italy trying to catch a glimpse at the famous butcher (Cecchini is a morning person) and queueing to dine at any of his restaurants – Officina della Bistecca, SoloCiccia and Panzanese. (There is apparently a food truck, too). Dario fans queue and crowd with a cult-like adoration, waiting for a taste of Cecchini’s philosophy.
“I use everything with conscience and try to give honour to the animal. And it’s an economic concept,” says Cecchini, the butcher’s butcher, and the consummate spokesperson for good meat. “Usare tutto bene. Use everything [all of the animal] is the philosophy of my family,” And Tuscan culinary traditions as well where gastronomic efficiency (i.e making the most of what you have) is priority.
Craft butchers like Cecchini focus on entirety. From nose to tail, every cut and section has its value and the butcher shares more than just the cut but the Why, as in, why use pork jowl in a carbonara? Why tripe? So here’s my question: Is Cecchini the best butcher in Italy? The World?
The Best Butcher is in Panzano in Chianti
Undoubtedly, Cecchini is the best -and not just for the meat. For more than four decades, Cecchini has captivated the world with his ability to transmit his passion for carne and butchery into an experience. A robust butcher heritage, Cecchini originally didn’t want to follow in the meaty footsteps. Ironically, he started to study veterinary medicine before turning back to the family practice. But when he returned to the counter, he went full hog.
Cecchini is a showman. He likes to quote Dante and he loves taking center stage – whether behind the chopping block or out in the central piazza of Panzano. In 2001, the world mourned beef with the rise of Mad Cow disease. Thousands of cattled were destroyed and the European Union banned the sale of meat. In Panzano, Cecchini hosts a global grieving party for the Fiorentina and hundreds congregated in the town’s piazza for a funerary procession with a coffin containing a T-bone and a marching band. And then he auctioned off a Fiorentina, donating the funds to a children’s hospital.
Cecchini kept the Fiorentina on the map when it was supposed to be off and he kept going. He talks beef on Italian television shows. You’ve even seen him on Chef’s Table. Where ever he is and whatever he is doing, he insists on best butchery practices both for the butcher and for the buyer, and on community. That’s what makes him the best.
Biker Butcher is the Next Generation
It’s obvious I have a thing for butchers and butcher shops. I like talking cuts, and I love watching the macellaio draw out his knives and hammers to slice and pound. I love conversations about double grinding pork and beef for the best polpette. And this is probably why luck would have me randomly bump into Roberto Ricci.
Ricci is Dario’s right-hand man (officially on LinkedIn), something I didn’t know when I started chatting him up at a fish vendor in Porto Santo Stefano simply because he had cool stickers. “Moto Macellaio” is the biker butcher. Quite possibly the next phase of Cecchini, Ricci has the same passion mixed with a little bit of Sons of Anarchy. His biker vibe means outdoor grilling, immersing himself in food cultures, and an itinerant taco food truck. I’m always a little too late to the party, only finding out his meat-loving events via his Instagram.
Go to Panzano to Eat Meat (and Veg)
A lot of good things are grown in the hills of Chianti, and I’d count great butchers as one of the territory’s natural resources. Panzano in Chianti, a hilltop village of 2000 inhabitants, approximately a 40 minute drive south from Florence, beef raised Cecchini and his disciples under the gorgeous Tuscan. Small town life is the blood of Cecchini’s restaurants.
I’ve had the pleasure of dining at two of his outposts where Cecchini and Ricci always bring a smile to my face in spite of the fixed menu experience. Officina, Panzanese and SoloCiccia (lunch) are communal experiences where guests dine together, eating family style – taking how much of whatever they want. There are vegetarian menus as well – Cecchini is just as passionate about local, well-sourced produce and Tuscan veggie tradition is he is about meat.
More important that dining, I’ve also had the pleasure of bringing home my choice of his Fiorentina and grilling it for a private party of two. Mind Blowing. My next goal is Ricci’s taco- Riccardo, please invite me in advance!