Dario Cecchini is the product of a long line of patriarchal butchery. For eight generations and two hundred and fifty years the Cecchini family has handed down the craft from father to son in the town of Panzano in Chianti. The cows traditionally bred for the business was the Chianina, an ancient breed of cow typical of inland Tuscany. Today, Dario gets Chianina meat from the Fontodi farm in Panzano. The Cecchini family philosophy prided itself on the compassionate death of the cow. The cow was to live a good, long life in a shared relationship with the family. It would work hard in the fields, and help the family tend to the farm. Growing up, Dario was never fed expensive cuts of meat; often he and his family ate what was left over, and what the family did not sell that day. He didn’t have his first steak until the age of eighteen. This goes along with the idea that his father stressed: in order to slaughter the cow compassionately, the entirety of the cow must be eaten. The point, Dario argues, is that the butcher must use the whole cow from head to tail to respect its death. Dario once said he was “fine with being reborn as a cow” (Zachary Norwak, Intervista con Dario Cecchini, Food In Italy). In congruence with this statement, I have divided Dario’s life into a series of characteristics. Each of which represents a body part of the cow that correlates to a particular aspect of Dario’s life, the first of which being the stomach for accountability.
Stomaco (Stomach): ACCOUNTABLE
Dario’s character was first tested when he broke Cecchini family tradition by moving away from his hometown of Panzano to Pisa. In Pisa, he attended veterinary school. As a child, he did not take part in learning the craft of butchery from his father. His father didn’t share the craft with Dario because he lacked curiosity for the business. In fact he did not believe in slaughtering animals whatsoever, which is why he pursued veterinary school. After halfway through six years of schooling, however, he heard the news his father was dying. His mother died soon before, and he quickly realized he would be the head of the family. Therefore he forwent his pursuit of veterinary school and went back to Panzano. There he realized he had to find a way to support his family, and he did so by following in his father’s footsteps. His father recommended he learn the craft through a long time friend and teacher, “The Maestro.”
Schiena (Back): PERSEVERANT
Dario worked hard for awhile under an apprenticeship with “The Maestro” in order to learn what was necessary to own a butcher shop. He knew nothing about meat or butchery, and at the young age of twenty he was forced to not only participate a in a craft he did not believe in, but also doing so while supporting his family. Perhaps because it was in his blood, or simply because “his story suggests that a meaningful life is less about doing what you love, and more about striving to love what you must do” (Anand Giridharadas, Embracing an Unchosen Path in Italy, NY Times). Either way, Dario has risen through the ranks within the last couple decades, and he has made quite the impact on the meat industry. His popularity rivals him to some as the world’s best butcher. People from all over the world come to Panzano, originally a relatively unknown town, to have a meal at his restaurant. His humility and passion for his business is apparent. He welcomes incoming consumers with the story of his family and his belief in the respect for the cow. His charisma and the family environment keep costumers returning for years to come. The Cecchini family business, nonetheless, would not have thrived as it has without Dario’s unyielding commitment to the philosophy. To this day Dario holds the Cecchini tradition true: every cut of meat is equal, and the treatment of the animal and preparation of the meat are essentials in respecting the animal.
Occhi (Eyes): RESPECTFUL
The meat Dario uses comes from Catalonia, Spain, he only uses the Chianina on occasion. He does so because he firmly believes all races of cow are equal. Some local consumers disagree with this because the Chianina is a special breed of cow central to the Chianti region, and they argue Spanish cows are not good representations of Tuscan food. Dario, however, has a strong argument against this. He uses the concept of race and contends certain cuts of meat don’t need to correspond with certain races of cows. He contextualizes this argument by comparing it to us as a human race. He says “like us, the life of a animal depends of context: it depends of good food, attention, space to roam. It has to have a good life, which is the dream of every human as well; but it has to have a death that is (I won’t say without pain) as respectful as possible, and above all the animal has to have an artisan who accepts the responsibility of having killed (like me, as I’m talking about butchering). This is the responsibility of a carnivore, to respect the animal you’ve killed, the meat. I try to do just this” (Zachary Norwak, Intervista con Dario Cecchini, Food In Italy). In other words, Dario is telling us there is essentially no difference of quality of meat between the Chianina and Spanish cows. He believes the focus should not be on the type of meat being used, the name ‘Chianina’ adds no value to the meat of the cow. The focus should be on whether or not the cow lived a good life and if the meat is prepared well. This idea is congruent with the Cecchini philosophy in that all parts of the cow, or all races of cow, have equal value. One does not have to have a filet to have a good cut of meat, if other unwanted parts of the cow are prepared well the cut of meat can be equally satisfying.
Testa (Head): KNOWLEDGABLE
Today, sustainability has become a major topic in our global economy. Therefore the Spanish cows may confuse some since they are six hundred and eighty-three miles away from Panzano. Bringing the meat that far of a distance may appear as a disregard for preservation of fossil fuels. However, Dario points out that Chianti is a region known for its exceptional production of wine, not meat. “If you owned four acres of land in Chianti, would you pasture five or six cows, or makes several thousand bottles of Chianti wine? Four acres of wine grapes can make someone a lot more money than four acres of pasture” (Zachary Nowack, Dario Cecchini and the Possibility of Sustainable Meat, Food In Italy). Dario could easily choose to have local food, raising cows a few miles away in Chianti. However in doing so one overlooks the problem of feeding the cows in this region. The grain would not be local; instead it would come from countries such as the United States and Argentina. Producing and shipping this grain would guzzle more fossil fuel than shipping the meat from Spain would. Dario claims he is an artisan, he strives to find the best raised meat and make it his own. The meat he uses is not always Tuscan, but the methods he uses are. As Cecchini puts so perfectly, “You don’t need to use Italian lemons. You don’t need to use Italian rosemary. You don’t need to use Italian meat. If you have good ingredients, you can find the balance” (Russ Parsons, Lessons from Dario Cecchini, the World’s Most Famous Butcher, LA Times).
Cuore (Heart): COMPASSIONATE
My experience with Dario began the Sunday we arrived in Panzano. We had a five-course meal, all meat. At the time I did not realize the impact Dario’s restaurant would have on my perception of meat consumption. Two weeks later, we visited the Fontodi farm in Chianti, which raises beautiful Chianina. The cows we saw were strong, big, and well taken care of. From there, we went straight to the butcher shop and saw hundreds of cuts of cow, most of which were the Catalonia cows. There, the butchers taught us about the different cuts of meat. They stressed the importance of the use of the whole cow, each part of the cow is used and nothing is wasted. Immediately after, we went Dario’s restaurant and had the famous MacDario. Personally, I did not feel comfortable eating the meat after seeing the cows and walking through the butcher shop. I felt a little bothered thinking about the cows being butchered and then eaten. Because of this, I decided I wanted to know more about Dario so I studied his philosophy.
In retrospect, my experience that day did force me to stop and think about the ethics of slaughtering animals for consumption. However, after reading about Dario I realize I have a lot of respect for his work. He respects the animal, and three major components contributing to that are the good life of the cow, a good death, and the use of the whole animal. “Animals need to enjoy a good life with a good diet, in this case pasture as well as a mix of oats and barley. They also need a good death: the cows and pigs are not moved before slaughter, but rather slaughtered then shipped to the butcher shop. Finally, all of the pieces of the animal are used, not simply the most popular cuts; this gives meaning to both the life and the death of the animal in Cecchini’s eyes” (Zachary Norwak, Dario Cecchini and the Possibility of Sustainable Meat, Food In Italy). This once again reiterates the philosophy of the Cecchini family: a respectful life and death of the animal is essential.
Zoccoli (Hooves): LEADER
Dario began his journey with the intent to save the lives of animals as a veterinarian. He now is a renowned butcher, yet he still has the same respect for the animals he slaughters. He warrants the animals are respected in their death by eating the entirety of the animal, not only popular cuts. This is a paradox, but it is his way of combining the craft both veterinarian and butchering. Dario’s journey is unique, but his leadership in the field separates him from others, and he is laying the foundation for others to follow suit.
NORWAK, ZACHARY. “Dario Cecchini and the Possibility of Sustainable Meat.” Food in Italy. N.p., 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.
Parsons | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Russ. “Lessons from Dario Cecchini, the World’s Most Famous Butcher.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 12 Mar. 2008. Web. 10 June 2014.
Giridharadas, Anand. “Embracing an Unchosen Path in Italy.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.