Halfway between Florence and Sienna, encircled by the rolling Chianti countryside, is the Tuscan hilltop town of Panzano, home of the most famous Butcher in Italy, Dario Cecchini. Equal parts showman and larger-than-life butcher, Dario’s passion for his craft was featured in Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, as well as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Tuscany. A visit to Antica Macelleria Cecchini – which Dario affectionately refers to as “paradise for carnivores” – will be a treasured experience. Dario’s family has owned this shop for over 250 years, and he has preserved it in the style of an 1800s macelleria (butcher’s shop). A quirky juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary if you happen to arrive on a morning where Dario is blasting rock music from AC/DC.
Set aside at least a couple of hours to take it all in. Dario will welcome you with his beaming smile, holding court from a pulpit-like platform behind the counter. His American wife lovingly serves as translator as Dario expertly wields a shiny knife, sharing his philosophy on the art of nose-to-tail butchery, “having respect of the animal, of its life, of its death, and using everything to the very last tendon with conscience is what I have been doing every day for the past 38 years.” He’s also been known to quote entire passages from Dante’s Inferno as he works his magic to transform a side of pork into superb pork chops. Enjoy a hedonistic spread of charcuterie, olives, pecorino cheese, and oven fresh bread slathered with whipped lardo. Even those arriving first thing in the morning will be offered an accompaniment of robust Chianti from Dario’s own vineyard. Unsurprisingly, the macelleria is always buzzing with a meandering procession of villagers, artists and friends of Dario. Enjoy this slice of Tuscan life, and be sure to grab a bottle of Dario’s “Profumo del Chianti” (Essence of Chianti), a delectable blend of sage, lavender, thyme, rosemary, fennel pollen, juniper and salt that will immediately transport you back to Panzano when sprinkled on steaks or atop grilled bread with olive oil.
For those with a bit more time, snag a seat for lunch or dinner at the lively communal table at Dario’s Officina Della Bistecca. This isn’t an ordinary meal, but an 11 course beef-centric experience to be shared with locals and fellow travelers. Pace yourself, as you won’t want to miss the spectacular finale of the world famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. An extraordinary feast with endless Chianti and a side of raucous laughter guaranteed.
The charming village of Panzano itself is worth discovering. Spend the weekend, perhaps during the four-day Vino al Vino wine festival held the third weekend in September. For about 12 euros you can stroll along the main square sampling wine from local vintners and munching on Tuscan goodies, all to the sound of live music. And don’t miss the lovely Sunday morning market showcasing seasonal produce, cheese, roasted meats and more. Salute!
– Taste of Adventure