Have you noticed how one of the year’s biggest food trends has been alternative meat cuts? During my recent visit to the U.S. I noticed how many restaurant menus featured new – and often affordable – cuts of meat, like tomahawk, shoulder tender, oyster steak, and Vegas strip steak, to mention a few. While pork and lamb cuts are easier to recognize, it is not the same for beef cuts. Some pieces are universally known, while others are not.
I’m always a bit confused when buying meat in Italy. Especially when trying to make recipes from an English or American cookbook. The names of certain beef and veal cuts in Italy change according to region. This means Neapolitans call rump “Lacerto”, while in Rome my butcher calls it “Pezza.” Besides the difficulties in finding the right name, Italy cuts the beef in different portions and sizes.
Here is my attempt to make some sense when talking to my butcher.
Situated above the rear end of the filet it is lean and has light marbling. An outer layer of creamy white fat makes it very tasty for Barbecueing. In Italy we call it Controfiletto or Roast beef (in Milan). It also goes by the name Lombata, which creates confusion. That’s because it is cut together with the short loin, and jointly called Lombata. These are the subcuts of the Lombata: Filetto is the beef tenderloin. This is the prime and most renowned cut of beef, lean with very little to no marbling. It is very tender as the muscle it comes from is completely inactive. Being not at all fat, it does not have a strong flavor. Controfiletto is the sirloin.
Italian butchers call and cut the rib area in many different ways. Lombata, Costata, Braciola or Costa is the muscle that covers the end of the rib cage, which can be cut with or without the bone. It is a very tender part, with plenty of fat that gives the meat a lot of flavor when grilled. Carré refers to the ribs, where Costolette are the actual ribs and Nodini are the chops.
Short Loin, Tenderloin, Sirloin and Top Sirloin
Located at the end of the ribs and over the fillet, the meat on the back part of the animal is slightly less tender than the filet, but extremely tasty near the bone. Italian butchers call these cuts Lombata, Scamone and sometimes Entrecote. In Rome, Bari, Bologna, L’Aquila, Perugia, Potenza and Rovigo steaks are also cut from the Lombo. In Sicily it’s from the Trinca, in Naples it’s called Biffo, in Venice it’s the Lai sottile, while in Turin it’s Lonza. Those who call it Roast beef are in Belluno, Mantova, Milano, Padova, Treviso. The loin and sirloin subcuts are the Costata (T-bone steak) and the Coste della croce, which are the short ribs. The famous Fiorentina steak is is obtained by cutting the 4-inch costata with the filet and the bone.
Bottom Sirloin/Rump and Leg
Fesa esterna, scannello, noce, fesa interna, punta d’anca are some of the names of the subcuts of the bottom sirloin, or rump. In Milan the round central piece of the hind leg is called Rosa. Lean and with little marbling, it can be cooked in many different ways such as barbecued: braised, pot-roast, roast or steak tartare. Girello, Megatello, Codone are more names for this tender part. In Rome and Florence it’s Pezza, while in Sicily I’ve heard it called Codata and Culatta. Being the back side of the leg just before the tail, it includes the last few vertebrae of the spine. It is used for steak and roasts, while the actual tail is used for coda alla vaccinara, a delicious cucina romana dish. This entire posterior area of the animal make up the Italian “grigliata mista” barbecue.
In the front portion of the animal there are Fesa di spalla, copertina, girello di spalla and sottospalla, which are subcuts of the brisket, or round. Punta di petto and collo are the chuck and the top part of the brisket.
Pesce and geretto (posteriore and anteriore) are the shanks. This is the cut used for ossobuco.
The flank is a relatively long and flat cut, in Italy it is commonly called Pancia, Scalfo (in Milan), Spuntature (in Rome) or Bavetta. In Southern Italy it’s mostly called Pancettone, in the Veneto region it’s Tasto. This is a less refined piece of meat, and reasonably priced. It is becoming more popular and used in well-known international recipes like Fajitas, Fraldinha and the Argentinean asado. Once cooked it should be sliced across the grain. Flank steak is also used as an alternative to the traditional skirt steak.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.