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Panzano Diary: Superstar Butcher

Perhaps Americans’ view of food as medicine renders incomprehensible the notion that a butcher can be a superstar, but for cultures that view eating as a joy, people like Italy’s Dario Cecchini (and France’s Hugo Desnoyer) are widely known figures. Cecchini’s shop in the village of Panzano-in-Chianti, just south of Florence, is a happening: the butchery sells wonderful cuts of meat raised by farms who work with the man that everyone calls Dario; his restaurant, Solociccia, routinely fills five or six communal tables (table d’hote in French) at which groups of fourteen to sixteen strangers enjoy a lengthy €30 prix fixe meal, complete with wine that Dario buys by the thousands of liters from his favorite vintners (in one corner of the restaurant there are 500l stainless steel tanks of wine and olive oil); a separate restaurant, the Officina della Bistecca, specializes in steaks; and there’s even a Mac Dario eatery, where unique burgers are to be had (the name endures despite a letter from MacDonalds). That’s Dario in Roman profile on the label of his specially made grappa.

Cecchini Comp.jpg

Europe seems to have more than its share of appassionati: people on a mission to not just run a business, but to make sure that their definition of a fine product comes to the attention of the whole world. We’ve written about old-wine collector/dinner holder, François Audouze; pioneering vintners Anselme Selosse in Champagne and Dominique Laurent in Burgundy; and Paris’ vegetable king Joël Thiébault. Dario fits right in. One week he’ll be cutting up a wonderful cow from Spain in his shop, and the next he’ll be heading off to Japan, New York or Denmark to show a hall filled with 500 butchers just exactly how to productively use every part of a carcass. Needless to say, beyond his skills with a butcher’s knife, his sense of humor and larger-than-life personality keep everyone’s attention.

Dario’s passion extends to the red and white colors of his clothing — that’s him above in red pants and Crocks and a white shirt and apron — and to his striped building. He explained to us that he is fined €750 each year for his outlaw façade, but he likes it so much that he just pays the penalty.

Addendum: Who in America is the equivalent of Dario Cecchini? It’s hard to come up with a name. But who in Europe resembles Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg? That’s a tough question, too. Chacun à son goût.

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