Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

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Dario Cecchini – The Dante-reciting, Rock-star Butcher of Italy

One step into Antica Macelleria Cecchini and I’m already gaping.

It’s all marble, oaken butcher blocks, hanging meat hooks, crackling rolls of porchetta, links of aged salami suspended over platters of Tuscan bread, mounds of creamy lardo, and – behind the glass display – a staggering amount of meat, meat, meat.

This clearly is no ordinary butcher.

This macelleria (butcher shop) awes with its idyllic Italian charm, and I remain rooted in the doorway. I don’t quite care if I’m blocking the entrance because I’m having a moment here, where I’m processing that I’m standing where the shoes of people the likes of Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Springsteen, and Jamie Oliver have tread.

I am, of course, rendered useless as I spy Dario Cecchini, famed owner of the macelleria, striding towards me. I don’t even have time to gasp.

“Vino?” he offers, a bottle in one hand already tipping the mouth towards an empty glass.

Startled, I shake my head sharply in slight panic, partly because I was aware of the time of the day (morning), and partly because I had already been acquainted with the potency of Chianti wine. “No, no. Grazie.”

“No vino?!” is the incredulous reply, Dario’s voice booming within the small confines.

I cringe, feeling curious stares turn on me, and I offer a sheepish smile in return, “No.”

His eyes dart to the bottle of water I have in my hand, “No acqua! Si, si, vino!”

And he proceeds to pour a healthy amount of deep, dark liquid into the glass, piercing blue eyes fixing firmly on me till I finally take it.

Dario smirks as I sip the heady wine in embarrassment, and I make a quick mental note-to-self to never, ever decline a proffered invitation to wine – especially from an Italian, and especially if it’s Dario.

Dario Cecchini is the 5th generation owner of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a butcher shop in the humble Tuscan town of Panzano. His macelleria draws droves of tourists, all clambering for a taste of his quality meats, or just to see the man himself in his culinary Mecca. He is best known for holding a ‘funeral’ for the bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine-style T-bone steak) in 2001, back during the mad cow scare when a ban was imposed on eating meat served on the bone. To serve the bistecca without its bone was sacrilege.

The name Dario goes beyond the person itself. It’s immediately clear that the bold strips of red and white paint on the shop’s façade, the bottles of olive oil and Chianti wine emblazoned with stickers of his side-profile, the jars of salts and marinades stamped with the name of his shop, are all Dario.

The man is a brand.

Standing next to me, he is decked out in a white long-sleeved shirt, with a bright red vest thrown over and a matching pair of red pants. He has a white ‘Antica Macelleria Cecchini’ apron on top of it all. In his left arm he cradles a bottle of wine in a straw basket, and it is with no small amount of amusement that I learnt that it is traditionally called a fiasco – probably attributed to the very merry-making the wine induces. I know that for a fact, because I am starting to feel a little too happy from my first sip of Chianti.

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