Friday, February 11, 2011

Giovanni and the Chianina

Chianina in central Italy (photo from Wikipedia Commons)
    This is the story of Giovanni, who owns La Vecchia Cucina, a ristorante in Collesecco, and the Chianina beef that comes from a farm in Ponte di Ferro, about 5 km away. It is the tale of a marriage made in paradise, where a side of beef passes from pasture to kitchen to table, preferably to our table.
Giovanni's arm is a twig next to this steak
     Since 1997 we have been going to Giovanni's ristorante in the little village 3 km from home. We've always ordered something like pasta con melanzane or pasta primavera, or perhaps the tender veal tagliata, cooked rare with rosmarino and salvia and sprinkled with local olive oil.
     We needed nothing else. We were happy.
      But, then, we began to hear the unmistakable sound of a meat cleaver in the kitchen, followed by the glimpse and trailing aroma of huge pieces of succulent grilled beef passing us by, going to other people at other tables. Where had we been? Why hadn't we realized?
     Last week we decided to make a break with habit and ordered the bistecca alla fiorentina, a 1-1.5 kg (2.2 - 3.3 lb) T-bone, usually served to two or more people. We heard those familiar sounds emanating from the kitchen and we knew those noises were for us.
Giovanni slices our fiorentina
     The Chianina breed originated as work animals during the Roman Empire; because of their white hides, they were chosen to pull the wagons at important parades and were offered as sacrifices to the gods. The largest breed of cattle in the world, Chianina come from the Val di Chiana, which is an area near the border between Tuscany and Umbria. They are protected as a brand by the European Union. Usually grass fed, every Chianina is given a number, which follows it from birth to slaughter and all the way to the table. The fiorentina is steak Florence-style, a cut that dates back to the Medicis.
    As we waited for our steak, other hungry people began to pour into the ristorante. All of them, it seemed, came for the fiorentina. We tried to look nonchalant, chatting and sipping Montefalco Rosso, as if this weren't our first time. In truth, we were ravenous and, every few seconds, Piero cut his eyes toward the kitchen door. Finally, the gate to heaven opened and Giovanni emerged carrying a steaming platter of grilled meat. Alas! He passed us by and took it to the next table. How was it that for all these years we ate our pasta peacefully and never noticed that everyone else was digging into a significant portion of a side of beef?
      Our turn came at last and the fiorentina was placed before us. While we had been sitting there in anticipation, we'd observed that protocol was to wait patiently for Giovanni to come to the table, slice the meat and personally serve us from the platter. We watched reverently as he sharpened his knife and began his surgeon's cut, juices spilling gloriously from the steak. If waiting had been difficult the first time; it was almost impossible after we had tasted this tenderest of meats and wanted a second serving. What a brutta figura it would have been if we had helped ourselves.
       We are already planning a dinner in November when our olive picking friends are here. We think three bistecche alla fiorentina might be enough for twelve people, but, then again, we may have to order four. Plus, the pasta con melanzane. Fortunately, it is only February and we have the time and the will to investigate. This may take repeated visits to La Vecchia Cucina.
Copyright Sharri Whiting 2011



deniseblackman said...
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Calogero said...

Nice photos :-)