If you’re going to Tuscany, you must find him. He was the reason we drove out of our way for the shortest overnight stay of our trip. (Remember what I said about chefs recently?) To say the visit was worth it is an understatement.
But first… Where are we going? Panzano in Chianti. To go to a butcher shop? Trust me. But, seriously, where are we going?
Did I mention we got a little lost along the way? Just a little. But enough to make us over an hour late arriving. The roads are very narrow and twisty, I missed an exit somewhere along the way. We arrived after dark and missed out on a day’s wandering.
I recommend arriving early during the day! Reduce your stress and enjoy wandering the hilly streets of this lovely walkable town. Traveling in the daylight will also make the scenic drive on the Chiantigiana Highway much more enjoyable.
Panzano In Chianti
Panzano is situated halfway between Florence and Siena. Although you can get there by bus from Florence, it’s not as simple from Siena. Best to drive yourself. That way you can truly appreciate the view of the town perched above the rolling hills of Chianti. And, you can easily visit other parts of Chianti in your own time.
If you can arrange your visit to include a Sunday morning, I recommend it. Every Sunday from 7AM to 1PM the market comes to the main piazza. Vendors sell produce, housewares, clothing, and prepared foods. If you’re staying somewhere that has a kitchen to play in, all the better. Since we were on our way to a few days with a kitchen, I was inspired to do some shopping.
I was born with an Italian palate for deliciously bitter flavors… radicchio, artichokes, bitter greens of all sorts. A February market in Italy is heaven for me. All my favorites were in season and I had an excuse to shop. I purchased some of the special local garlic, aglione della valdichiana. Its large cloves are mild, buttery, and pleasantly aromatic and flavorful.
I also bought a kilo (2.2 pounds) of local dried legumes, cicerchie (pronounced chi-CHIR-kia) to bring home. They are similar to garbanzo beans. They are ancient. In this region, they predate the Etruscans. I’ve also seen them online, referred to as grass peas, Indian peas, and chickling peas. The farmer recommended cooking them like any other bean. Soak them overnight, then simmer with a sachet of herbs and mirepoix until tender. From there, make a thick soup with tomatoes and lots of good olive oil. And, of course, the aglione. When I got home, I did just that (and will again, but will miss the sweet garlic).
There’s also food to eat there. Like fried polenta that will bring tears of joy from the perfect balance of crunch and creamy. Did I mention I was in heaven? During the market hours, many shops in town are also open. Including the Antica Macelleria Cecchini.
Dario Cecchini: butcher of Panzano
Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. I almost shy away from writing about Dario because so much has already been written. He even has his own episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix. (Watch it. It’s awesome.)
Dario Cecchini is an eighth-generation butcher who grew up in Panzano. He believes butchery is an ancient art intertwined with respect for the animal. There are no good or bad cuts of meat if the butcher and cook each do their job well, together. And he obviously believes in love. Love of his art, and art in general, love for the animals, for the guests he serves, his home and friends, and especially his wife, Kim.
Dario goes between greeting customers and passers-by on the street, to running up the stairs to make grand appearances in the dining room of Officina della Bistecca. Then, back to the counter of the butcher shop to boldly recite Dante, hand you a slice of salami or crostini with whipped lardo (aka Tuscan butter), then return to passionate conversation with a friend visiting from far away, or from down the street.
We spent Saturday evening with Dario in his shop. I hadn’t seen him in several years. I don’t know that he remembered me. We share a dear friend in common. That, he said, made us family that evening. We called and messaged with our friend, Chef Cesare Casella, who was back in New York and missing the party.
In the festive shrine to meat, there was a table loaded with Tuscan treats – bread, lardo, salumi, cheeses. And there was a server with a seemingly bottomless bottle of local red wine that she poured with abandon. We ate and drank until we couldn’t hold any more. I would have stayed there forever. I can’t wait to return.
If you’d like to experience the true essence of this wise and passionate man, and better understand the poetry of his work. If you’d like to see him share his art with some of the best chefs in the world, watch this video of his 2013 appearance at the MAD conference HERE. Warning: this video is not for the squeamish, but it is (in my opinion) crucial knowledge for all meat-eaters, and lovers of Dante.
Have you been to Panzano? Did you watch the Chef’s Table episode or the MAD video? Let me know what you think in the comments below!