Halfway along the Via Chiantigiana, a magnificent byway that bisects vineyards and olive groves on its path between Florence and Siena, sits Panzano in Chianti, a postage-stamp of a town known for its ancient churches, its quaint piazzas, and its butcher. Dario Cecchini, owner of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini just of the main square, is a legend in Europe. His knowledge of and devotion to meat is so absolute that men like Jack Nicholson and Bruce Springsteen fly across the Atlantic to learn at his feet.
But you don’t have to be famous to get an audience with Dario. Regular tourists have filled his two-room shop for decades. They come for the meat (which is exquisite), but it’s really more about the man himself. Broad-shouldered and handsome with hands the size of welder’s gloves, Dario is a showman, greeting guests who enter with a charming smile and happily yelling as he hacks away with a cleaver, often reciting long verses from Dante’s Inferno. Mounds of Porchetta (stuffed pork loin wrapped in pig skin and slow roasted) and Sushi del Chianti (raw meat balls tossed with salt and olive oil and lemon juice) sit on the counter. Free meat to go with the free wine poured by Dario’s staff. It feels like a revival held inside a kitchen.
As the Panzano born and raised son of a 7th generation butcher, Dario envisioned himself becoming a veterinarian, curing sick animals instead of salt-curing their parts. But midway through Dario’s studies at veterinarian school in Siena, his father grew ill and passed away, leaving the Antica Macelleria di Panzano in his massive hands. Dario dutifully came home, mastering the trade while using his education to make sure the animals he killed were treated humanely during their lives. He worked hard and he was good with a knife, but what differentiated Dario Cecchini from every other butcher Italy was his personality. It’s not unusual for Dario to pause in his duties on the high stage behind his meat counter to clean off his hands and come into the retail space to hug a newly arrived guest, be it a famous artist or a simple tourist who has been by the shop on a few occasions.
Darios’ feel-good pathos has helped him build a cottage empire on his little cobblestone street off the square in Panzano. He expanded the butcher shop into an adjacent gallery where there can be readings or art exhibits and there’s Solaciccia restaurant across the street where tourists enjoy protein-rich, multi-course meals. Above and behind the butcher shop, on a knoll looking over the hills and hollows of the spectacular Chianti Classico valley, is a restaurant of two identities: a high-end and cleverly-named burger joint, MacDario, open during the day; reinvented in the evening as Officina della Bistecca, a veritable carnival for carnivores. Every evening, Dario begins the festivities by holding a massive beefsteak fiorentina in his massive mitts and shouting some bastardized Shakespeare: “To beef or not to beef? That is the question.”
The answer is simple. Beef.