Going Whole Hog: Adventures in Meat and Italian Butchering

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Faith Willinger


I recently wrote that I was going to New York and Boston with Dario Cecchini and Giovanni Manetti, two and a half Tuscans (I'm the half, Tosco-Americana) with an agenda—butchering lessons, whole-cow dinners paired with Fontodi wines. We stayed at New York's Michelangelo Hotel, owned by Tuscan Elisabetta Fabri, a friend of Giovanni's, a client of Dario's. We all met in the lobby. Dario's suitcase, with knives, was lost. His wife, Kim, attempted to track it down. Giovanni had a reservation at my favorite restaurant in New York, The Four Seasons—we were joined by Lisa Niccolini (Tuscan owner Julian's wife) and Kim. Julian was his naughty self, as usual, and after a series of appetizers and lots of wine, he served Dario an entire veal shank.

Dario spoke of the animals he worked with, which should lead good lives, eat healthy food, and have a merciful death.

We met Gaetano Arnone (Dario's ex-apprentice, now working at Eataly in New York) and David Levi (future apprentice) in the kitchen of Del Posto, where we would cook for the event on Monday evening, and headed across the street to the Chelsea market, looking for ingredients that we might be missing. Butcher Adam Tiberio of Dickson's Farmstand Meats had a tattoo, "MACELLAIO" on his arm. He was thrilled to see Dario, clearly an inspiration, since there was a Panzanese steak (Dario invented the cut) in his meat case.

Then back to Del Posto's kitchen, where Dario, assisted by Gaetano and David, sectioned half of the hugest cow—almost 1,600 pounds, dividing by musculature, carving away bones, each piece destined for a special recipe. It took all day. Chefs filed through the kitchen to take pictures and be photographed with Dario and the meat. I had dinner with a friend at The Breslin (loved the suet crust on the beef pie). Kim, Dario, and the boys went to Brooklyn, to Mile End, since Dario was lusting for pastrami.

The next morning we worked the cuts, pounding slabs of beef with a hand-tenderizer to make Dario's Chianti sushi, kneading ground beef and pork into Cosimino jumbo meat balls, chopping vegetables and herbs, braising meat.

We met Giovanni Manetti for a quick lunch at da Silvano (Tuscan, from Florence) but spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen.

We headed uptown to David's parents' home (his father is a New Yorker of Venetian-Milanese origin, with a home in Tuscany) to meet friends and sample some of the dishes we'd prepared so far. The amazing photographer Wowe bonded with Dario and took lots of pictures. Jim Lahey and Sara Jenkins were among the Tuscanophile guests.

The final morning in the kitchen we were assisted by Mario, tenderizing sushi, making more Cosimo jumbo meatballs, finishing long braises that needed to rest. We were on schedule and had time for a quick lunch with Giovanni, Mario, and Joe at Del Posto. We had Mario's favorite dish as a kid, spaghetti with invisible sauce—garlic, chili pepper, extra virgin olive oil.

David and Gaetano transported the meat, a hindquarter, to the Italian Culinary Academy for Dario's lesson on Panzano-style butchering. The auditorium and aisles were packed with students, butchers, and fans. Dario began with a little history of his family's traditions, handed down from father to son for 250 years. I translated. He spoke of the animals he worked with, which should lead good lives, eat healthy food, and have a merciful death. He talked about respect for the entire animal, utilizing each piece to its maximum, wasting nothing. And he said that his guiding principal was that one only possesses what one can give. Dario explained as he worked, boning the shank, which would be stuffed with the marrow from its bone, tied, braised with shallots and extra virgin, a Christmas specialty of his shop. He prepared a cut for a simple roast, carved his special steak, the Panzanese, while Gaetano and David tenderized meat for sushi.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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