We recently took a drive among the rolling hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany. It strikes me whenever I go to another region of Italy just how different the food offerings are from place to place. We traded in our glasses of Oltrepo Pavese for Chianti glasses and a new attitude on red meat. Here in Lombardy, it seems that meat is not the great specialty that it is in Tuscany. "Roast Beef" is sold in thin slices that you're supposed to pan fry and people generally seem suspicious of rare meat, preferring a rather pinkish-grey tone to their steaks. (Fish, however is sublime.) So it was with great relish that we headed to Tuscany, the capitol of the Fiorentina (it means "from Florence") steak, a.k.a. the T-Bone! Yum. Now that I live abroad, eating a good, rare steak transports me back to Sweet Home Chicago, "butcher to the world", so I felt at home in Tuscany. Here are Giuseppe and Paolo about to enjoy their rare, 2-3 inch-thick Fiorentina. They serve them so large that the menu suggests Fiorentina as a main dish for two.
In Tuscany, they prize (and advertize) the razza Chianina breed of steer as much as we do the Black Angus. These big, gorgeous white animals have been bred in Italy since ancient times, were used for sacrifice by the Etruscans and then by the Romans; they have been beasts of burden and food for millenia. A few years ago, the Fiorentina was banned since part of the bone could contain spinal cord fluid and thus endanger the eater with Mad Cow Disease. One butcher and self-named glutton, Dario Cecchini held a funeral for the bistecca alla fiorentina as a symbolic protest against the prohibition. Luckily, they have gone a long way to reducing the risk of the disease and the steaks are now back on the market and absolutely delicious!