Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sirloins, roast's and mince

There are certain food rituals that I’ve learned whilst living in the provinces. One of them is going out early on a Saturday morning and buying a year’s supply of beef – just under 100 kilos of it! Whatever happened to going to the supermarket and buying a steak you might ask? The answer is this: it just doesn’t make good economic sense. But more than that, you have the satisfaction that comes with choice – knowing, that is, where your meat comes from, what the animal has been fed on and how it’s been reared. And, another thing I’ve learned over the years living here, eating well doesn’t have to cost the earth (and I mean that both figuratively and literally).  

This is how it works. Three or four friends get together and go visit their local cattle farmer. They say, ‘we’d like to buy some meat please’. About a month later one of said friends turns up at the door with a bag containing your share of the offal – tongue, liver, tripe etc., etc. That evening, everyone eats liver and onions. A few weeks later, having allowed the meat time to age, those same three friends meet early one morning at the local bar, drink coffee and then drive into the mountains to visit the local butcher. They each come equipped with a dozen plastic crates, 6-8 packets containing freezer bags of assorted sizes and a permanent marker. The next stage takes time and isn’t for the squeamish. It takes the butcher and his son approximately 5 hours to carve and portion the animal.  The result is dozens of assorted bags containing all manner of cuts including sirloin steaks, fillet steaks, frying steak, various roasting joints, mince, braising and stewing joints and meat for making broth.  

Italy has a 50% deficit in meat production which means that meat produced in the country comes at a premium. Italians, generally, prefer to put their faith in Italian produce and, whenever they can, they buy Italian. But doing so at the supermarket can be extremely expensive, especially if you eat a lot of beef. Hence, it’s much more economical to get together once a year and buy a whole cow – from tail to hoof to head!

The 6 main indigenous varieties of cattle raised for meat in Italy are Chianina (from which comes the famous Tuscan fiorentina), Marchigiana, Maremmana, Piemontese, Podolico and Romagnola. Among cows raised for milk production in Italy, 3 foreign breeds (Italian Freisian, Holstein and Italian Brown cattle) produce 90% of the officially controlled production, with over 20 indigenous breeds producing the remainder. There are, in addition, numerous local breeds for both milk and meat production for which there has been a surge lately of renewed interest. This can be attributed to an increased demand amongst Italian consumers to know the provenance of what they are eating and for quality. This is welcome news as many of the lesser known breeds of indigenous cattle were quite simply facing extinction.   

As for my friends and I, we each pack something in the region of 85 kilos worth of beef into the boot. There are few prizes for guessing what everyone’s having for dinner tonight! 


  1. Well Mario I am squeamish. I don't like looking at the heads of chickens and rabbits in the butchers here as it is. I really am a city girl, living in a fairly rural village. You will never catch me butchering meat! I hope you enjoyed your dinner!

  2. Carrie Bradshaw! But, since you mention it, dinner was excellent. Everyone loves a good steak!

  3. Well I agree with you on that one (about loving steak), I just don't want to be so involved in getting my food to the table.