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Dario Cecchini - Italy's Greatest Butcher

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#1 jennifer

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 12:21 PM

I just watched the Dario Cecchini butcher event which was streamed live on Nostrana’s website. I was expecting this to be a demo of how a Tuscan breaks down a pig. But instead the demo was filled with traditional anecdotes and 250 years of lessons of respect for the animal.

I typed notes during the demo because I found his stories and traditional 200+ year old recipes fascinating. So if you’re interested in this kind of thing, continue reading. If not, no offense taken!

Note that every mention of the use of "oil" means extra virgin olive oil.

On Specific Cuts: He said in his village (1,000 people) they look at an animal from a circular viewpoint instead of a hierarchy. There are no prime and sub-prime cuts like in the U.S. Instead, you find the best solutions for each piece of meat. “An artisan is like a tree, you need to have your feet/roots in tradition and your head in the sky. It’s important to know all the possibilities an animal gives us.”

On Pig Breeds: He doesn’t look for any particular breed of animal, that it’s not about the breed. He says he’s not a racist. Instead his favorite breed is an animal that’s lived a good life.

Today's Pig: The particular animal he had today was a 300 lb pig from Square Peg. He commented at least 10 times throughout the 1+ hour demo how great the quality of this animal was. It’s very important to understand the quality of the meat. And he could tell from the way the meat looked, the texture of the meat, and from the bones that this pig lived well.

Growing up in a butcher’s family, they didn’t eat steak or filet. They ate the stuff that people didn’t buy.

Pig Trotter: His first cut in breaking down the pig was a pig trotter, and said that it could feed 10 people. Many laughs from the audience. But he continued: Slice trotter in half length wise, soak in vinegar & water for 4 days, rinse, spread with smashed garlic, rosemary, lots of salt. Then keep that under the salt for a week, then wash it in vinegar & hang it up. When ready to cook, you cook it in water with beans, then remove the meat & mix with beans & vegetables, and one hoof feeds 10 people.

He moved onto the ham/prosciutto cut.

In Tuscany it’s a family tradition that when you have a bone from a salted prosciutto, you would lend someone the bone so they could use it to flavor vegetables. You can use the bone 5 or 6 times.

Chianti tuna: made with a cut that would normally be used for prosciutto. Old tradition in Tuscany of preserving the thigh of this cut in oil during hot weather months when it was too hot to preserve prosciutto with salt and air. This tradition disappeared & Dario brought it back after learning it from an 80 year old.

The process: Salted with the skin for 4 – 5 days, then washed in water, poached low temp for 4 – 5 hours in white wine that has no sulphites. Cool down in the liquid it’s cooked in. Next day, take off the fat, and the part that’s left over is the lean meat. The texture looks like it’s tuna in oil. This can last for months preserved in oil. More explanation here: http://www.dariocecc..._tonno_eng.html

Liver, Tuscan’s answer to Fois Gras: quarter it, s&p, bay leaves, wrapped in caul fat, skewer the pieces, oil the meat, put on rack over pan, vin santo in the bottom of the pan, cover with foil, fat drips down into vin santo and vin santo evaporates & perfumes the meat. When cooked, remove pieces from skewer, and put them under oil.

Kidneys: bit of oil, some sage, cooked briefly in a pan. This was a special bite for the kids at home.

Pork fat: Cut into small pieces, then put into a pot with a bit of water at the bottom, and cooked slowly so all the fat rendered out. Once it was melted, they put the pieces in a cloth & squeeze it and you have rendered lard. And the little pieces that were left were skin that you cooked & crisped up. Dario asks, why would anyone throw away this good stuff?

Central part: Loin & Belly. Counted 5 ribs from the head and sliced the animal in half. He was cutting parts for tonight’s dinner.

He’s putting all the trim pieces at the top of the board for sausage making.

He cut pork chops with fat attached. The chops need to have their own fat to cook in while cooking. Preps with dried fennel flowers. Tradition is to prepare pork with digestive herbs, things that aid in digestion. Since pork is a strong meat, the fennel flowers are very digestive, so these both tend to be sweet & blend together nicely. Cook briefly in a pan with oil, 7 min on each side. Cook some cabbage or kale in boiling water, squeeze it out, keep chops warm, then cook cabbage or kale in leftover fat from the chops, toast some bread, and that’s dinner.

Use the head for making head cheese.

Everything leftover after prepping the sausage, skin, bones, bit of meat, boiled together with the head. People usually get rid of the hair from the face by putting the head in boiling water. Farmers in his area use fire instead of water. This way the skin is dryer than if boiled, and it’s easier to preserve without refrigeration.

Butcher's Tip: When you’re making roast pork, use a nice sized blow torch to make the skin really crispy before serving.

Shoulder: spirit of lesson isn’t to explain the greatest thing about each cut, but to give perspective about possibilities on each cut so every person can find their own way, based on your own traditions, climate you live in, aromatic herbs available ,and the quality of meat.

He holds up a bone, says it has tons of flavor, use for soup or go with the head to make head cheese. Toast bones in oven, boil with bay leaves & aromatic herbs & onions, make a broth.

Central part of shoulder is used to make the Chianti tuna. Other part is for Guanciale.

There are 3 fatty cuts in the pork that are ideal to salt & preserve: pancetta/belly, the lard from the back, and the piece from the cheek & throat which is guanciale. Meat is much more a blend of fat & meat.

To make the guanciale: Salt & Rosemary for 15 days, wash off with vinegar, then hang it & wait until it’s ready. This is what you need to make Pasta Amatriciana. Uses guanciale to dress vegetables. Uses a little tiny bit of that to give big flavor to a dish. This cut “Doesn’t need a whole lot of time to age. Not rocket science. Just vinegar and a few simple herbs.”

Central: the porchetta. Dario’s favorite dish & the dish that is central to festivals & parties. Boned the center of the animal. Rolled it over & is cutting long vertical slits through the skin so that the fat gets rendered & lets the meat breathe. Rolled it back over so meat side is facing up. Garlic massaged into the meat, coarsely ground pepper, wild fennel flowers / pollen, sea salt with herbs mixture, dusted liberally, nice liberal dusting of rosemary. Roll up the porchetta and tie it. Massage oil into the skin. Skin must face up in the oven. Bake for 5 hours, 240°C, on a rack over a pan so the fat gets rendered.

He feels a sense of responsibility to do something with each cut that is truly phenomenal, so that the animal died for something that makes sense. When he’s in front of an object like this (the porchetta he just prepped), he feels like he’s done something good in life. He went on to explain how the butchers in generations before him had less to work with and they were better than him. But he thinks about how much joy he brings to other people through what he does.

Now prepares something called Chianti butter: He cuts off a huge piece of fat back, then explains: Fat back chopped very finely with salt and aromatics, ground by hand on a marble slab very finely and massaged. That’s the butter they cook with, slather on bread and use as butter.

His village didn’t have milk, butter or cream until the late 1960’s, and they don’t use much of it today. No one was missing it. They would buy a goat to get milk for a child. And when the child had enough milk, they ate the goat. When he was 12 a dairy store opened.

The marble slab he works on has been there for 200 years. Marble & butchers go well together. Best material to work on.

Leftover pieces he does garlic sausage. Mixes all the different cuts so all the flavors come together in the sausage. Salt, pepper, garlic & marble. It has no preservatives, lasts for 3 days, they eat it raw, no trichinosis in Italy so they’ve never had a problem eating raw pork. Made an enormous amount of sausage every week.

He said when you know how the animal was raised and you break it down yourself, you have control of the quality of the meat, there’s nothing to worry about. When you only buy prep’d cuts from the supermarket, and a meat packing house broke down the animal, you don’t know how carefully (or not) the meat was treated, if any contamination happened, etc. so you have to be very careful about that meat.

When Mad Cow broke out in Europe, his business increased exponentially because people knew they could trust meat from his shop.

Again he comments on how well this pig was raised well & that it had a good life. Translator read the bio from the pig, and it was Portlandia Gilt Club chicken scene all over again. This pig enjoyed chestnuts & another form of nut during the last few months of life.

#2 polloelastico

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Posted 17 April 2012 - 12:27 PM

Awesome, thx so much jennifer for the recap!
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” — George Carlin

#3 jennifer

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 08:46 AM

If anyone wants to see this, Nostrana posted the video on their website.


#4 vj

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 05:03 PM

Thank you, Jennifer, for the recap and the link. The recap was a great read. Cecchini is such a character, I can practically hear him say some of the things you've written there.