Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: lardo

Italy, Genoa 2012: Gran Ristoro – 150 types of Panini

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‘150 tipi di panini’, boasts a sign outside Gran Ristoro. A rudimentary estimation (mine, of course) puts the figure a little closer to 10,000 types of panini, given a choice of two ingredients with the same kind of bread. With over 30 different cured meats, 20 condiments and cheeses and whatever else is hidden out of sight, it’s obvious that while Math may not be their forte, a solid panino is.

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The staggering selection of meats of all shades, sizes, and marbling was enough to stun me. Salami, coppa, prosciutto, lardo, pancetta, and every other what-have-yous under the Italian sun must have found a home behind the glass at Gran Ristoro. They’re all there: whole logs thicker than any of my limbs, and slabs so large you would think they had just cured the animal in its entirety.

The line moves far too fast to attempt to differentiate one from the other, and may you receive some divine intervention of sorts if you cannot understand a word of Italian. Like I did. Well I know enough to know what’s ‘speck’ and ‘cinghiale’ – especially cinghiale – and ‘salame’, and a handful of cheeses that would grant me a decent panino. But I didn’t want decent. I wanted all the ugly ones, the fatty ones, all the olives and sundried tomatoes and pesto and cheese and good grief what a godawful panino I’d end up with if I truly had my way.

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Everything moves like clockwork in that cramped space. Meats are sliced fresh upon order, breads are split open, and money changes hands faster than you would be able to decide your ingredients. There’s little cause to worry though, since the servers are quick to critique your choice of ingredients if they know for a fact that it won’t work, or that you could do better. It’s always nice to know that someone thinks you could do better, although they don’t quite put it that politely. They’ve been operating for at least 30 years, so assuming one panino a day, they’ve probably had every single combination imaginable, so listen to them. Just ask for the server’s favourite panino if you’re ever in a stitch. The Italians love a little ego rubbing.

We had two different panini, neither of which I can recommend because I have no memory of what we chose. Cinghiale (wild boar) perhaps, no, definitely, and…something else. Sorry, I’m not going to be of much help. You’re better off spinning a wheel.

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The bread itself is particularly chewy and cold, which could be a let-down given the excellent fillings available, but that’s how the Italians eat it. ‘One man’s meat…’, as they say. There are a couple more panini shops nearby if the line at Gran Ristoro turns nasty, and I’m willing to hazard a guess that the breads elsewhere may be better.

A panino with meat, cheese, and a choice of condiment averages around 2.50€, and won’t kill your wallet even if you wanted more ingredients. I doubt I’ll find anything like it again. They’re all of great quality, prepared by people who have been doing what they do best and only have the line of locals and tourists alike testify to that.

Gran Ristoro

Address: Via Sottoripa, 29 16100 Genoa, Italy (Righi)

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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