Butcher poet hails T-Bone return

Thu, 10/06/2005 - 05:39

(ANSA) - Italy's butcher-poet Dario Cecchini on Wednesday hailed the return of Tuscany's famed Fiorentina T-bone steak after a four-and-a-half year ban.

"This is a day of great joy, for all the world's meat-eaters," Cecchini said in a telephone interview with ANSA from his shop-cum-culinary-mecca at Panzano in Chianti. Jubilant phone calls were already flooding in from as far afield as Britain, Switzerland and America, he said - despite the fact that the steak "still has to clear a minor hurdle."

Wednesday's OK from the European Union's veterinary committee has to be cleared by the European Commission. The final thumbs up is expected to come in time for Christmas.

"Our Fiorentina died in Lent and will be reborn at Christmas," said the jovial Cecchini, who has won national popularity with his steak-linked stunts. The Fiorentina was "pure 'Tuscanity', a symbol of our joie de vivre, gobbling up life in big, tasty munches," he said.

Cecchini added that saintly intervention might have had a hand in Wednesday's thumbs up from the EU committee. "Our patron, Beato Tommaso Bellacci, definitely had a hand in this. After all, his feast day is coming up."

Every year butchers of the world answer Cecchini's call for a massive grill-up and party on the saint's day, October 23.

"This year it's going to be special," he said, promising to "beef up" the event.

Cecchini, an outsize, ebullient character, grabbed headlines worldwide in February 2001 when he staged the Fiorentina's funeral, the most illustrious victim of the EU's mad cow ban. Butchers and meat lovers came from as far away as Russia and Japan to snap up the last legal Fiorentinas, auctioned off by Cecchini for charity.

Cecchini, who has since started touring Italy showing his barbecue skills and singing the joys of meat in Tuscan dialect poetry, composed a lament for the very last steak as it was interred near his shop. He says he's already polishing up his lyrical skills for the October event, where he'll read a resurrection ode. "I'll thank Beato Tommaso for pulling it off for us."

Tommaso Bellacci, a 14th-century monk tortured by the Turks after he was sent to bring eastern Christians back to the Roman church, was the son of butchers and a tearaway in his Florence youth. Cecchini thanked the saint for "bringing back to Earth the meat masterpiece that was so roughly torn from us."

A whopping cut off the bone, the Fiorentina is typically flash-grilled to leave a blood-dripping, succulent and almost raw centre - although the squeamish can always ask for it to be left a bit longer on the grill.

BUTCHER'S SHOP A MECCA FOR MEAT-LOVERS.

When it returns to Panzano, midway between Florence and Siena, it will join the other treats for which the Antica Macelleria Cecchini is famous: special cuts of tongue, home-made sausages, salamis and stewing beef. Despite the Fiorentina's sad absence, sales of traditional beef have actually gone up during the ban, Cecchini observed.

"People want quality. They want beef from traditional herds, fed in the traditional way," he says, citing a new study showing that the numbers of Tuscany's Chianina cattle have increased by more than a third since 2001. Like Italy's four other white long-horn breeds, the majestic Chianina was once an endangered species. "We haven't been able to give people the Fiorentina
until now but they've been falling over each other for other Chianina cuts," the boisterous butcher says.

Cecchini, who has been called a Renaissance Man for his versatile talents, isn't just content with making sure his customers get the best meat. He also hands out recipes with his fare, throwing in the odd impromptu snatch of verse as well. No wonder tourists - and not just foodies - have made his shop a must-stop stage in their travels around Tuscany. Panzano will soon be seeing even more new arrivals when he unveils a new 'Meat University'.

"I've been working as a consultant for years now - to (fashion designer) Valentino's American butcher, to some of the world's top hoteliers. I even had a chat with Prince Charles when he unveiled some new organically produced beef in Rome. So I decided it was time to set up my own school." The second floor of Cecchini's shop will be inaugurated, with students from all over the world, early next year.

"I'll teach meat-lovers how you cook a real Fiorentina," he promised.

"It's all coming together, at last. The school will start up, the Fiorentina will be back and we'll have a barbecue to end all barbecues."

"Viva la ciccia! (Long live meat!)".

JOY ECHOES ACROSS ITALY.

Cecchini's joy was echoed by Tuscany's agriculture chief, Susanna Cenni, who said "this is a day of celebration for Tuscany."

"At long last one of the flagships of our traditional cuisine is making its long-awaited return," she added. Italy's farm associations said that, before the ban, the Fiorentina accounted for 5% of Italy's meat consumption. Coldiretti said "this is a great moment for the national food industry. The Fiorentina was a badly missed mainstay of Italian cuisine."

Confagricoltura said "food tourism is sure to be boosted by this splendid development."

CONFAGRI said "this is the end of a long exile for a magnificent symbol of Italy's culinary tradition." The organisations said there was a huge backlog in demand for Chianina meat.

EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said "this initative was not taken lightly." "We're sure this proposal will not affect the high level of consumer protection attained by EU measures over the last ten years," he stressed.

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