My friend Roger asked me to write about this phenomenon, the bistecca chianina, which is much written about, much misunderstood, and much misrepresented. We had dinner, Roger, his wife, a coupla friends, and I, last week at an old Cortona restaurant called La Loggetta.
It has had its ups and downs over the years and I had actually stopped frequenting the place about eight or ten years ago. But here was Roger, a man whose taste in art, food, wine, and life in general I have learned to respect in the small amount of time I’ve known him–here was Roger, I say, proposing a visit to La Loggetta. And I was, I will admit, totally surprised, first of all by the service which is impeccable, just what one expects from a good Italian restaurant and so seldom finds–friendly without being in your lap, respectful without being obsequious, helpful without trying to dictate the menu. And then the menu: discreet and well thought out. And finally, of course, the key note to everything, the food: It was great. And what was greatest of all was the bistecca chianina, a full Porterhouse, a good 2 1/2 to 3 inches thick.
Chianina is the variety of beef traditionally raised in “our” valley, the Val di Chiana which Cortona overlooks. These are the massive white cattle, oxen really, that we always used to see back in the day, yoked together and drawing a plow through the fields of the Val di Chiana. Patient, dignified, tranquil beasts, replaced of course by tractors by the 1970s. But then their full merit was disclosed when it was discovered that the meat of the Chianina is particularly tender and tasty. After which they were in great demand.
Some folks say that if every Chianina bistecca actually came from a Chianina animal, the animals themselves would stretch from here to China. And back again. But this particular bistecca chianina at La Loggetta came with its own document of authentication. So we knew that it was a bestia raised in Cortona, slaughtered in Cortona, carved up in Cortona, cooked in Cortona, and delivered to our table in Cortona. You can’t get much more local than that unless you raise it yourself.