“To beef or not to beef?” is the question that diners are confronted with at Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop and restaurants. Whether a personal question or a question proposed by the wait staff, Dario Cecchini answers this question by treating his animals with the upmost respect. As the first famous butcher, Dario Cecchini embraced the philosophy of using the whole animal and respecting the animal throughout his thirty-eight year career as a butcher. Growing up in Panzano of Chianti and now running three restaurants in the town, Dario Cecchini has placed the small town on the map as a popular tourist destination for diners eager to taste some of his world-class meat.
For the four weeks in May and June of 2014 that I have studied in Panzano, I have had the unique experience of meeting Dario, touring his farm and processing facility, dining at each of his three restaurants and spending one night working behind the scenes at the two dinner restaurants, La Officina della Bistecca and Solociccia. While there are two restaurants for dinner, the other restaurant, Dario Doc, is open only at lunchtime. At each of these restaurants, guests begin with an aperitivo in the butcher shop, where they are provided with wine and a sampling of bread and meat. They hear a variety of popular songs from musicians such as AC/DC and the Beach Boys playing and enjoy watching the waiters dancing in around the shop in order to get people excited for their meal. People from across the world congregate in and outside the butcher shop waiting for their meal and hoping to see Dario, wearing his signature Italian flag vest, chop some small types of meat behind the counter. After the aperitivo, diners are escorted to their respective restaurant for a special meal prepared by Dario and his incredible staff. Every one of the staff members is very passionate about their job and loves to tell the diners about the meat that he is preparing. Each of these restaurants is widely revered and visited by people looking to catch a glimpse of Dario and try his meat.
Dario Doc, which is the newest of the three restaurants, opened in 2008 and only serves lunch. This restaurant can seat about ninety guests and is attended by ten waiters. Dario Doc is located above the butcher shop and people are seated at long tables with other diners. There are three options for lunch, which includes two types of burgers and a sampling of Dario’s meats. The prices range from ten euro for the Mac Dario, which is pan fried with a crust of corn flour and is a mix of meat containing about eight percent of butter of Chianti, to fifteen euro for the Super Dario, which is charcoal grilled and is a mix of meat that includes about eight percent of beef marrow. Each of the burgers is served with french fries, tomatoes and onions. The third lunch option is the Accoglienza for twenty euro per person. This is a sampling of beef tartar, Chianti tuna, roasted pork and meatloaf with a bell pepper sauce. On the table are placed vegetables, bread, and glasses of natural and sparkling water. All of the dressings from the ketchup and mustard to the olive oil and the Profumo del Chianti, which is sea salt and herbs, are created by Dario and dressed with one of his signature labels. Even though this is meant to be a quick meal, I have met tourists from all over the world, who have stopped by to enjoy some delicious meat before continuing their journey.
The first of Dario’s dinner restaurants is Solociccia, which opened in 2006 and is a representation of his philosophy of using the entire animal. This restaurant seats about forty-five people, with seven staff members, and is approximately nine courses, each taken from different parts of the cow. The seating times at this restaurant are seven and nine p.m. Thursday through Saturday and one p.m. on Sunday. A meal at this restaurant costs thirty euro per person. When the diners are finished with the aperitivo, they walk across the street and enter a white house with rooms each painted a different color. These rooms all contain communal tables, which are filled with wine, bread and vegetables to share. Each diner also receives a placemat containing the different meat cuts of the cow. This placemat allows for the consumers to be educated about what they are eating and to emphasize Dario’s philosophy of using the whole animal. Then each diner is served, in sequence, muzzle and broth, true Italian beef, spicy meat sauce on bread, batter fried meat and vegetables, beef stuffed with rosemary, beef roast, boiled beef and vegetable salad, and braised meats. Every dish of meat is prepared in a special way, which varies from the grill to the oven. The meats are either served or placed on the table for everyone to share. While observing at Solociccia, I noticed that the restaurant design, the wait staff and chefs, allow the guests to feel like they are eating a home cooked meal. It is a very relaxing meal, where people from different countries are able to come together and converse over food. After about an hour and a half, the diners are served olive oil cake, coffee and grappa before ending the meal. The diners at Solociccia receive a taste of one of Dario’s animals from the head to the tail in a variety of cooking styles.
La Officina della Bistecca
Dario’s third restaurant, which is located above his butcher shop and debuted in 2007, is La Officina della Bistecca, which is open every day with one seating at eight p.m. After the aperitivo, diners enter the dining room through a secret door in the butcher shop. The guests walk up the stairs and are greeted by two large grills with a long table facing them and two long tables outside. People are seated respectively and are offered wine, vegetables, and bread on the table. Once seated and comfortable, Dante, who was introduced to me as the ringleader of the restaurant, comes over and entertains each group of people. He poses for pictures, makes sure people are comfortable and gets people talking to each other. Dante has the ability to speak to people of multiple nationalities, regardless of the language barrier. Dante prepares the diners for the show that lies ahead. La Officina Della Bistecca was referred to as a show by each of the seven staff members that I worked with and they look to provide the guests with the best quality meat and the best possible entertainment. The diners are served beef tartar, seared rump carpaacio, strip steak, Bistecca Panzanese and Bistecca Florentina. The meats are cooked on the large grills and the diners can watch the master griller cook each type of meat. The meat is then presented by one of the proud chefs in an exciting presentation. The diners take a lot of pictures and are cheering throughout the presentation. The meat is then cut and served to each diner with olive oil and Profumo del Chianti. At this time, I observed that the conversation changes to a discussion between different parties about the quality of the meat. Just when the diners think they cannot possibly eat any more, the Bistecca Panzanase is presented in a loud and passionate presentation, which the diners follow by an eruption of cheers. This entire experience lasts about two and a half to three hours with non-stop entertainment by each server. It is apparent that they make a point to talk to every diner, no matter the language barrier and to teach them about where the meat comes from and how it is cut. After the steak is finished, the diners are served olive oil cake, grappa and coffee and enjoy their final time at Dario’s restaurant. This experience costs fifty euro per person and the restaurant creates memories that will last a lifetime.
Dario Cecchini has succeeded in creating three memorable restaurants within the small town of Panzano in Chianti. Whether stopping in for lunch at Dario Doc or going for dinner at La Officina della Bistecca or Solociccia, diners are guaranteed to experience delicious food and a good time. I have seen Dario’s passion for his job throughout his restaurants, especially in all of his thirty-eight staff members that share the same passion for butchery and his philosophy. The incredible work done by each and every individual at Dario’s restaurants helps to contribute to an amazing experience for every guest. I have personally witnessed, the respect that Dario has for his animals, which can be seen by the way that his staff carefully prepares and explains each cut of meat. After talking to Dario and his other staff members, I have realized that Dario is constantly looking for ways to expand his business and improve his butcher shop and restaurants, while keeping true to his philosophy of respecting the animal and using the entire animal from head to tail. No matter what the reason is for a trip to Dario’s, guests are assured they will be welcomed into his butcher shop with smiles, passion, and the smell of meat and will enjoy a memorable gastronomical experience at any of his restaurants.