For those non-vegetarians who don’t wince at eating meat, some of the best in the world is to be found in Tuscany. If you think of Japanese Kobe, Irish Angus, Piedmontese Fassona or French Limousine, the Tuscan Chianina beef cattle breed is more than world class. Named after the main region where the cattle are raised — Valdichiana— it is a breed that has existed for thousands of years. Given their large size (bulls commonly top the scales at over 2000 lb) these were originally used for farming, for example pulling plows or transporting materials in carts, but now that mechanized methods have take over those jobs, they are exclusively bred for their meat.
Though Chianina are also raised in the Umbria and upper Lazio regions, Tuscany is renowned for its Bistecca alla Fiorentina: a Florentine T-bone steak that traditionally is served by the kilo, that needs to be dry-aged for at least 20 days and is best cooked on the grill over charcoal or wood, served rare or on special request medium-rare, sprinkled with sea salt. Go to any serious Florentine restaurant and it is a ‘must’ on the menu.
When I visit the Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence, often with my colleague Coral, I always pay attention because several butchers sell these bistecche but not all are authentic Chianina. The price tells all: pure-bred Chianina beef sells for from €25-€40/kilo. Those cuts sold for a lot less are not the real deal and often are coming from Argentina, Ireland or other parts. This is a good example of why it’s important to do your homework and ask questions about the source of the meat.
That said the pleasure of digging into a freshly grilled, free-range, grass-fed T-bone steak coming from Valdichiana in the heart of one of the most beautiful places in Italy is worth it. Pair that steak with a gorgeous red wine, for example a Brunello di Montalcino, and add some potatoes and seasonal vegetables and you’re set. Finish off with cantucci biscuits dipped in sweet local wine, or vin santo (literally ‘holy wine’), and you’ll have the full on Tuscan experience. What better way to enjoy a meal?
These are a few of our favorite restaurants that serve juicy Chianina steaks:
Ristorante del Fagioli, in Florence
Perseus Casa Trattoria, in Florence
Trattoria da Burde, in Florence
Antico Ristoro di Cambi, in Florence
Antica Trattoria Sanesi, in Lastra a Signa
Trattoria Tullio a Montebeni, in Fiesole
Antica Locanda di Sesto, in Lucca