One of the best aspects of my recent trip to Italy as a participant in the Terra Madre conference was that we got to stay with local people in the village of Vinovo, about 20 minutes’ drive from the enormous hall (Isozaki Palace) where the conference was held. Thanks to that housing situation, we (the members of my band and I) feel as though our families got expanded by 40 or so lovely, lively Italians.
We bonded with all the men and women of the Centro Parrocchiale who gave us caffe every morning to send us on our way and a beautifully prepared dinner every evening to welcome us home. It was during one of these meals that I had the best beef I’ve ever tasted – and it was raw, a tasty carpaccio of paper-thin slices of this fabulous beef, a little olive oil and salt and pepper served with thin slices of lemon.
And sitting across from me as I took my first bites of this heavenly dish was the farmer who raised the beef, Antonio Sandrone. He and his wife, Donatella, and two adult daughters (Chiara and Franscesca) became some of our very favorite people – and not just because of the great food.
The last night of our trip, the Sandrones invited us out to their farm for a last, great family feast, and it turned into one of the highlights of our trip.
While we were waiting for the final touches on dinner, Antonio took us out to his barn and to show us how local “local” is at their place.
His cattle are the gorgeous Piedmont breed – white and huge, with brown eyes that look like someone has carefully applied eyeliner. I tried not to connect them with the great beef I’d been eating all week, but …
Frustrated by the prices offered to producers by grocery stores, Antonio took matters into his own hands and built a butcher shop about 30 paces from the back door of their farmhouse. The farm has been in his family for so many generations Antonio has lost count and the farmhouse and barn have the settled feeling of a place that’s been around long enough to have the edges worn smooth.
The butcher shop, on the other hand, is modern, bright and completely professional. The beef couldn’t be any fresher. Antonio and his nephew (whose name I didn’t write in my notes and has now escaped me) butcher the animals there and bring it straight to the display case.
He sells an average of 500 kilograms of meat each week – about 1,100 lbs. – a good business by any standard. We were there on Thursday night and during the time we were visiting, a steady stream of customers came through.
I wonder if zoning regulations here in the U.S. would allow for such an operation? If so, and if Antonio’s experience is any indicator, GRIT cattle growers might take a cue from my Italian friends.
As you can see, there wasn’t much left of dinner when we got through – just great memories of a wonderful, convivial evening.