Butcher Dario Cecchini On Why You Should Stop Buying Meat At The Supermarket - Exclusive Interview

For many of us, our understanding of meat and the animals we so frequently consume doesn't extend beyond what we read on the labels in the grocery store. Nor does it have to, when chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and more are so readily available, thanks to the rise of industrial farming and mass distribution technology. Another substantial and growing group has knowledge that at least reaches their preferred specialty purveyor or craft butcher shop, touting a more specialized approach that undoubtedly results in higher-quality protein. Then there are still others who see our relationship to meat as something far more intimate, crucial to the inherent circles of nature that sustain life on Earth.

Dario Cecchini is a member of the latter group. He's an eighth-generation artisanal butcher from Tuscany, and his love and appreciation for all things animals are nearly unparalleled. Cecchini is a boisterous and beloved Italian butcher and cook who also runs several restaurants out of his shop in Panzano — when he's not traveling the world and finding ways to share his love of his culture and his sacred profession with all who will listen. 

He's learned to embrace a career path that was set out long before him, and he has found his own success by leaning into the ethical, respectful, and artistic nature of traditional whole-animal butchery. At the end of the day, Cecchini's culinary ethos is centered on simplicity and love.

We got the chance to chat briefly with Cecchini following one of his recent trips — to visit the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. The world-famous butcher was a special guest at several festival events, including the annual signature Backyard BBQ, presented by Pat LaFrieda meats and co-hosted by Andrew Zimmern. Speaking exclusively with Tasting Table (with his signature sass and style, we might add), Cecchini shared his impressions of the city, divulged some of his best tips for making steak, and opened up about the growing appreciation for the art of butchering.

Dario Cecchini was fueled by more than just great food at the NYCWFF

How did you enjoy your time in NYC for the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival? What were the culinary highlights for you?

The Wine & Food Festival in New York is always an amazing experience. I enjoyed all sorts of BBQ at the Backyard BBQ event. I ate many good things, but above all, I tasted the extremely positive and extremely necessary great energy in New York, after the long, difficult period we have all been through.

New York is famous for its steakhouses. Is there anywhere you tried a steak that stood out to you or one that you really want to try out?

I've had lots of great carnivorous experiences in New York. The next one I am looking forward to trying is Keens Steakhouse, of which I've heard many great things.

Expert steak tips from master butcher Dario Cecchini

Generally, how do steaks in America compare to what you'll find in Italy?

I would say that there is no "American" steak or "Italian" steak. Instead, the meat world is divided into artisanal meat from animals raised with respect, and industrial meat. I am always on the artisan side.

What is your favorite cut of steak or the one you cook for yourself the most at home?

My favorite cut is the oyster steak, which has always been a "butcher's" cut. In fact, according to tradition, it was never sold but instead was always saved for the butcher's family.

As someone who calls themself "a butcher who cooks," what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when cooking steak?

Not asking the butcher for advice before cooking their meat.

You're known for your holistic approach to butchering and your appreciation for all animals. What do you think is the most underrated cut of meat that we should eat more of and appreciate more?

The most underrated cut of meat is probably beef knees, which my grandmother used to boil for me, and which I serve in my Solociccia restaurant as a warm beef salad called Tenerumi in Insalata.

There are a lot of meat options at the grocery store to choose from these days. What do we need to be paying attention to so that we can purchase the best-quality meat possible?

I have to apologize, but I don't go to supermarkets. I only go to artisan butchers, and I advise you to do [the same].

The sacred art of butchering and the new generation of butchers

There seems to be a growing appreciation in recent years for artisanal butchers and the work they do — are you seeing that? What do you think is driving that now?

Personally, I am guided by the ancient inspiration of this profession, which I consider noble, and which requires respect for sacrifice. An animal is killed to nourish us, and so every part must be used with care, from nose to tail. A craftsman butcher knows this well.

I believe that the revival of this new generation of artisan butchers is because people are understanding that life is not just about money but also about knowledge and doing a job that I consider extremely ethical.

You consider butchering to be a very sacred art. Who would you say are the top butchers or chefs in the United States that you've met or worked with who embody this philosophy?

I don't have that much familiarity with the U.S. [butcher] scene. [But there are] a few friends I know and admire, like "Dave the Butcher" Budworth in San Francisco, Adam Perry Lang in Los Angeles, and Pat LaFrieda in New York.

For the latest from Dario Cecchini, follow him on Instagram, and visit his website for info about his restaurants and butcher shop. Plus, learn more about the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, presented by Capital One, and be sure to check out the highlights from this year's event.