Most folks go to the Chianti region for the wine, particularly in the fall when the grape harvest is just beginning and every winery in the region is open for tastings. Not us though….nope…. being food obsessed we went all the way to Chianti for the beef! We first read about Dario Cecchini, the butcher of Panzano, and one of Italy’s most famous butchers over a year ago, and intrigued, we followed his story and read everything we could about him all the while planning a trip to Panzano to taste his beef as soon as we had the chance. We twittered back and forth with Judy Witts Francini, known as @divinacucina on Twitter, who is a good friend of Dario’s and got all the information we needed to plan the trip. Panzano is just about a two hour drive from our farmhouse in Umbria, so after making dinner reservations at one of Dario’s two restaurant’s, SoloCiccia, we booked an overnight stay at a local inn so we wouldn’t have to drive home after dinner and set off to Chianti.
We had no idea what to expect, and after viewing Anthony Bourdain’s video his visit to Dario Cecchini’s butcher shop and how intimidated HE was to meet him, I must say I was more than a little hesitant myself. We arrived in Chianti and made a quick stop in Castellina in Chianti for a mid-morning cappuccino break before heading onwards to Panzano to locate the butcher shop. We had been to Chianti many times over the years but had never stopped in Panzano before. Although it really is a lovely little town, there isn’t a lot going on there besides Dario’s butcher shop and a few restaurants. The Antica Macelleria Cecchini can be found just around the corner from one of the main piazza’s and unless you were looking for it you might just pass it by as it has a very unassuming appearance. Don’t let that fool you though as you’ll see many folks going in and out of the shop all day and into the evening and upon looking inside it may appear a party is going on. This small butcher shop hidden away in a small town in the Chianti countryside is so famous it draws culinary groupies from around the world, and Italians even drive from all over Italy to buy his meats. It is no wonder that Dario’s popularity has led to the opening of two separate restaurants close by. SoloCiccia, features a six course fixed menu that focuses on unusual cuts of grass-fed beef, and sits on a steep cobblestone street directly across from his two-room butcher shop. You can’t miss it as it has a huge flower adorned light blue cow in front of it! From inside the butcher shop, if you head to the back and walk up a flight of stairs you’ll come into a narrow indoor dining hall and adjacent terrace that is Cecchini’s version of a fast food burger place which turns into his steak tasting restaurant, Officina della Bistecca in the evenings.
Shopping at Antica Macelleria Cecchini is not like visiting your typical local butcher. When you first step into the entrance of the shop you’ll be offered a glass of wine with crostini spread with seasoned lard. The morning we arrived it was in fact Dario’s Birthday so the place was really hopping as folks stopped by to wish him a “Buon Compleanno”. Not realizing it, our Twitter friend Judy and her husband were also there and it was lovely to finally meet her in person as well. Judy introduced us to Dario who was extremely nice and we chatted a short while with him about beef, particularly why he used beef from cows raised in Spain rather than Tuscany. My husband had already decided that despite the fact we were to dine at Dario’s SoloCiccia restaurant across the street from the butcher shop that evening, that we should have lunch at Dario’s other restaurant Officina which has an outdoor patio that offers Dario’s version of fast food. The Mac Dario is described as “a 250 gram crumb crusted burger served with roasted potatoes and three house sauces” and is sold for 10 euros. Perhaps this is indeed a fair description of the plate, but it doesn’t express just how delicious and juicy the bun-less burger is. Cooked rare but with a golden brown crisp exterior, when you pierce the burger with your fork the juices simply flow from it. Knowing I would be on beef overload that evening with an extensive beef tasting menu I simply planned on nibbling on the burger but am ashamed to say I devoured every bite of it as it was just that good! Judy and her husband Andrea dined with us for lunch and shared their history with Dario with us. It is very obvious that as a third generation butcher, he is extremely passionate about the food he serves and surrounds himself with people who feel the same way. I am told shopping at Macelleria Cecchini is never completed in haste as a discussion starts off about the different cuts of meat offered before finally a decision is made. Once that has been accomplished then Dario will give specific instructions on how best to prepare your purchases to make the absolute most of your purchases. While waiting your turn, you simply sip a glass of wine and chat with others in the store. There is even a shelf of cookbooks you can browse through while you are waiting. Some of the most famous items sold at Macelleria Cecchini are his Chianti Tuna, his Sushi Del Chianti and perhaps one of the most impressive items is his amazing Bistecca Panzanese.
SoloCiccia has two seatings each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, one at 7pm and one at 9pm. We had booked the 7pm seating but on hindsight after our heavy lunch, the later one would have been a better choice. The restaurant has just a few narrow rooms and each has one long communal table and you are seated as Dario describes “in convivo”. The SoloCiccia dining experience is best explained HERE The Officina della Bistecca is only open Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Sunday lunch. The Officina dining experience is best explained HERE
We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at SoloCiccia and have already began to make plans to return soon. Although I ate more beef in one day than I have probably eaten in many months, we even returned the next morning to buy a few items from the butcher shop to take home with us. Dario explained at that time that he ships overnight all across Italy and we happily took his price list home with us and can see we’ll be placing quite a few orders in our future from Antica Macelleria Cecchini.
Via XX Luglio 11
Panzano in Chianti
Tel – 39 055 852020
Duomo in Panzano
On Our Way To SoloCiccia
SoloCiccia Communal Table
The SoloCiccia Cow
Antica Macelleria Cecchini
The “Infamous” Mac Dario
Chianti Grapes With View Of Panzano Up On Hill
Luscious, Ripe Chianti Grapes