When you meet a person with an intense passion it exudes from them in an alluring manner and everyone wants a bit! Dario Cecchini is just such a personality who has become one of the most respected and well-known artisan butchers in the business who even runs cooking appreciation courses in Florence. There is no doubting his love of meat, in the UK Fergus Henderson and the inimitable Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, preach about the pleasures of eating all parts of an animal (although poor Hugh has just become an evangelical vegetarian, is this a sign of the times?) A Cecchini carrot conversion is as likely as an Italian mama deputising for a supermodel on a ‘cocaine chic’ photo shoot.
Cecchini is a man who lives, breathes and eats Bistecca. He takes great pride in telling anyone who will listen, how to cook and appreciate the much maligned parts of the cow– how very Italian. His restaurant in Panzano also gives the game away the minute you saunter by: ‘SoloCiccio’ it proclaims, ‘Only Meat!’. The aroma is enticing, nothing beats the scent of mature meat grilling on hot coals or the pungency of Fritto Misto (tiny slivers of poached brains and liver deep fried in a crisp egg and breadcrumb batter)or cow knees served with Salsa Verde dressing. Each night he serves up a five course extravaganza celebrating every animal part. He prides himself on using ‘everything but the moo’. You leave wanting to know more, how to prepare food with devotion, to learn cookery on a course in the heart of Tuscany.
From Cecchini’s demeanour, the way he cradles a lump of beef as if it were a loved child we glean everything there is to know about this passionate Tuscan butcher. To emulate him you need to discover a cookery course, preferably in Tuscany, which embraces the whole philosophy and intensity of cooking and handling meat, not simply learning the mechanics of butchery. Real skill and knowledge comes through learning how to deal with cow knees, oxtail and cheek, how to intensify the flavour of these neglected cuts. After all, as Marcella Hazan stated in 1992’s ‘The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’, ‘An Italian meal is a lively sequence of sensations…the crisp alternates with the soft and yielding, the pungent with the bland, the variable with the staple and the elaborate with the simple.’ Cecchini holds this mantra close to his heart and those of the animals he butchers. ‘Fillet is the last thing you want’ he laughs ‘It’s beef for beginners.’
A cookery course in Tuscany will begin to unlock secrets Italian cooks have known forever, and which sadly have almost vanished elsewhere when meat provisions predominantly became the preserve of supermarket chains. Cecchini understands that dealing with meat production in all its stages is a matter of respect. His shop and restaurants have become culinary sites of pilgrimage in Florence and on a cookery course in Tuscany you can visit them yourself and possibly see this artisan butcher at work exuding his passionate philosophy about the very thing that is both a staple for the table and a reason to celebrate being alive.