Umbria is the setting for our best-selling cooking vacation “Food Lover’s Paradise in Norcia,” and is the famed home of numerous gastronomic specialities. None is perhaps so revered as Chianina cattle, which produces the sumptuous beef prized the world over. Chianina (pronounced key-a-KNEE-na) is the basis for some of Italy’s signature dishes, such as bistecca alla fiorentina and carpaccio.
Although originally used as draught animals, agricultural changes after the second world war has allowed the breed to be prized for its high-quality meat. Chianina cattle are raised primarily in parts of Umbria, Tuscany, and Lazio, although they are now bred world-wide as well. Chianina are thought to be one of the oldest breeds of cattle, and although bred to be smaller than they were a century ago, are still one of the largest. They are resistant to heat and disease, making them ideal livestock. They are also visually stunning, with a white coat and some black around the face and tail.
Italy recognizes 5 indigenous breeds of Italian cattle (Chianina, Marchigiana, Romagnola, Maremmana, and Podolica), the first three of which carry also an IGP, or Indicazione geografica protetta, a sort of DOC-type designation for food products which guarantees the product’s region of origin. In Italy, Chianina beef is sold at premium prices by specialized butchers.
Chianina cattle have been making their presence felt since the times of the Etruscans and the ancient Romans, both of whom used them as working cattle. Pliny the Elder mentions these white giants, and they are found on the bas-reliefs of the Arch of Titus near the Roman Forum. They still feature in some popular local customs in central Italy, noticeably in the famed horserace of Siena, Il Palio, where they take part in the opening processional.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on Chianina beef, try making Chef Emanuele’s Beef Carpaccio with Pinzimonio and Salted Ricotta. Or, try another classic preparation, such as bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine-style T-bone) or spiedo di chianina (Chianina grilled on skewers). In all three dishes, the preparation is simple, the star is the beef!
By Peg Kern
Try another famed Umbrian meat, lamb, in an innovative recipe.
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