Where’s the beef?

City celebrates the return of the ‘Bistecca alla Fiorentina’

Editorial Staff
January 26, 2006

A chilly evening at the beginning of January, a red carpet rolled out from The Lounge restaurant in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and a special Florentine is welcomed back after an “exile” of over four years. As cameras clicked and bulbs flashed, a limousine slid up with several local personalities inside, among whom Tuscany’s, and probably Italy’s most famous butcher, Dario Cecchini. Dressed elegantly in black tie, and with a violin case handcuffed to his wrist, he strolled down the carpet towards the newest luxury restaurant in Florence to kick off an evening of wining, dining and merriment dedicated to the night’s true guest of honour, the fiorentina.

 

For Florentines the term “fiorentina” signifies two fundamental things: the local football team and the city’s trademark dish, the bistecca alla fiorentina, the three-finger-high T-bone steak barely seared over a flaming grill. Florentines have suffered greatly in recent years for the near demise of both of these fiorentinas. While the city’s football team went bankrupt and was knocked out of the Serie A tournament, an even greater tragedy occurred when the famous bistecca alla fiorentina was banished from dinner tables at the height of the Mad Cow Disease epidemic.

 

A total ban on the cut began on January 29, 2001 following the Agricultural Council of Ministers’ decision to ban the consumption of the backbone from slaughtered steers over 12 months old in an attempt to combat the spread of Mad Cow Disease, thus condemning the Florentine steak.

 

This meant that the true bistecca alla fiorentina - cut from a steer aged between 15 and 24 months old, the “T” bone in the middle, the filet on one side and the sirloin on the other, and sliced to a thickness of at least 3 centimetres - was no more.

 

However, with the ringing in of 2006, a whole new era seems to have arrived in Florence. The Fiorentina (football team) has made its way back and is now a serious contender for the Serie A Championship. And as of January 1st, Florentines could also celebrate the lifting of the ban on their beloved steak.

 

Back at The Lounge, Dario Cecchini finally entered the restaurant and prepared to open the violin case that had been handcuffed to his arm since his arrival.  It was time to present the real stars of the evening. As elegant guests and journalists looked on, Cecchini unlocked the case to display two flaming red bistecche alla fiorentina. Since then, the festivities haven’t stopped.

 

In fact, the month of January has been dedicated almost entirely to celebrating the return of the fiorentina, culminating in numerous barbecues in central squares throughout Florence and other towns in Tuscany.

 

On January 21st, eager crowds stood in long lines for a taste of the Florentine steak, ribollita and Chianti that was being served in Piazza della Repubblica to the sounds of live music and the moos of two gigantic ox that dominated the centre of the square.

 

This barbecue, along with several others, was organised by the agricultural groups Coldiretti and Confesercenti. Part of the proceeds from the hundreds of paying participants went to Florence’s children’s hospital, Meyer, and towards the campaign to save local Matec plant workers from losing their jobs.

 

The event at The Lounge was also a fundraiser for a Meyer organisation, the Saving Children campaign. This program is financed by local government and helps injured or ill Palestinian children find care in Israeli hospitals. Cecchini is always more than happy to emphasise that many of his beef related events (like Butchers for Children held last November) have raised thousands of euros for the program, helping save hundreds of children.

 

Not only is the fiorentina good, it also seems to do good and there is still time to participate in the events. The last week of January will not be lacking in activities dedicated to the fiorentina. From January 21st to the 28th, approximately 40 restaurants throughout the city are offering a 20% discount and a free glass of wine to those who purchase a meal that includes a bistecca alla fiorentina. At participating supermarkets and butcher shops, 10% discounts are offered on fiorentina sales (total purchase must be at least 20 euros).

 

Sunday 29th January will be dedicated to those usually working behind the scenes: butchers and chefs will demonstrate how to buy, prepare and cook the bistecca alla fiorentina. A parade of historic costumes and music will also liven up the city centre.

 

While the festivities at The Lounge may have launched the month long spree of beef related fun and events, Cecchini also had a much more serious plan in the works to honour the steak’s return. Once the barbecues are over it will be time to return to school – to study beef that is. The Tuscan butcher has decided that in celebration of the return of the fiorentina he would like to open a school dedicated solely to enlightening pupils on the correct way to prepare and cook a true bistecca alla fiorentina.

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