If Fionn McCool was the giant of legend said to have built the “Giant’s Causeway” in Ireland, I think Dario Cecchini might be the giant of legend that put Panzano in Chianti on the map. How else can you explain the daily pilgrimage of foodies and fun-lovers who take the winding road to end up at his butcher shop? If you have ever phoned or emailed me to ask where you should go in Italy, and you like food, I have sent you to Dario Cecchini’s. The famous “Dario salt” is on my list of what to buy in Italy.
Once you have braved the narrow switchback roads that take you through the Chianti region and end up in Panzano, you know you have arrived at the red and white striped butcher shop, not just because of the carved lintel proclaiming “Antica Macelleria Cecchini“, but because of the party-like crowd spilling onto the street and the music – be it opera or AC/DC – blasting out of the shop.
This is like no butcher shop on earth! It is a fun party and everyone is invited. Walking into the store, you are handed a glass of red wine and told to help yourself to the table loaded with samples of the various foods available for purchase and offered in one of the three restaurants onsite. Salami, Porchetta, seasoned burro di Chianti, breads topped with olive oil are all there to be tasted and enjoyed.
With your appetite whetted you make your way to either Dario DOC, Solociccia, or the grand-daddy for the meat lover, Officina Della Bistecca! Dario, Kim, Maestro, Dante, Dimitri, Tommaso, Zachary, Mirco to name a few, all make sure that your time at the shop is one to remember.
All the restaurants have set menus. Dario DOC (formerly Mac Dario, until McDonalds sent a cease and desist letter) has 3 options which showcase the philosophy that good food doesn’t have to cost more than fast food. Choices are the Mac Dario (€10), an in-house ground pure beef burger and roast potatoes or a sampler, Accoglienza (€20), which showcases such favourites as “Chianti sushi” (beef tartare), “Tuna di Chianti” (pork, brined for 3 days and then slow cooked in wine), Cosimino (the meatloaf created to celebrate the birth of Cosimo de’ Medici), Porchetta, vegetables and beans. There is also a new in-between menu, “Super Dario” (€15), which is a medallion of grilled beef with roast potatoes, beans and vegetables. Reservations are not needed and with the exception of Sunday, the restaurant is open every day between 12 pm – 3 pm.
Solociccia (€30) is a six-course meal that is based on the cuts the butcher would serve the family. The cuts, from muzzle to tail, are steamed, boiled, broiled, ground and fried. They are served with beans and vegetables, coffee, olive oil cake and a 1/4 litre red wine! My favourite name for a dish is “Rosemarino nel Culo” or rosemary up the butt. A meatball sized beef tartare lightly seared on the bottom with a twig of rosemary stuck in the middle. Reservations are recommended and lunch is served daily at 1pm with dinner settings at 7pm and 9pm. At the same across-the-street location, for a lighter fare, Solociccino, offers a quicker four-course lunch (Monday to Saturday 12pm – 3 pm), for €25 per person. (No rosemary up the butt, though!)
For the grandest party, make a reservation (strongly recommended) and go to the beef workshop “Officina Della Bistecca”. As Dario would say, “to beef or not to beef, that is the question,” The lunch seating at 1pm and one dinner seating at 8pm, find you sitting at a communal table enjoying 5 courses of beef, including the Costata di Fiorentina (bone-in rib eye), Panzanese steak and the famous Bistecca Fiorentina with some of your new best friends. [ELIN’s TIP: the meal includes fiascos of red wine and grappa and military liqueurs, stay at a nearby hotel!]
Dario is the seventh generation of Cecchini butchers. He originally studied to be a veterinarian, but the family shop was in his blood. Dario has always prided himself on the family tradition of serving very good cuts of meat, prepared simply. The quality shines through as does the fact that the beef is all raised without hormones. He is the world’s most famous butcher and if you are in Italy you will be so happy that you made the winding drive to Panzano in Chianti to join his party – tell them Elin sent you!