Russ and Elke's European Travel

It's not only what you see, it's how you see it

Russ and Elke's European Travel is a small company run by husband and wife team Russ and Elke Beck, a professional travel agent.

Over the years we have experienced some fantastic places, people, food and wine.  Out of our love for travel developed the idea to create very exclusive, intimate and interesting itineraries and let our clients experience, taste, smell, touch and hear what has given us so much joy in our travels. 

The Mad Butcher of Panzano

                The small town of Panzano in Chianti, which is located on a high ridge exactly halfway between Siena and Florence, has a poorly kept secret, the town is home to a Mad Butcher.  Now, before you jump to conclusions, you should know that this Mad Butcher has a name, Dario, and he is a butcher of meat, not a wild eyed, homicidal maniac.  In various circles we had heard about the “Mad Butcher of Panzano” and his eccentricities so our curiosity was peaked, we had to see this for ourselves. 

                As we entered the town via a series of uphill switchbacks I was struck by how modern it appeared in comparison to all the other rustic Tuscan hill towns we had visited.  This modernity is a bit deceiving though since I have since learned that there are actually remains of Roman pavement in town, and, much like many small Italian towns, a twisty and narrow warren of streets in the center harkened back to its roman and medieval roots.

                It didn’t take us long to find the famous butcher shop ‘Antica Macelleria Cecchini’; Dario Ceccini’s stage.  The shop is a tourist attraction and anyone in town is capable of pointing you in the right direction.  Just as you expect from a showman, but not necessary a butcher, Dario is known to break out into monologues from "The Divine Comedy" by Dante and greets his customers with an overabundance of Italian exuberance. Upon entering the store one is struck by that fact that it is, for all appearances, a normal butcher shop with the customary cases and displays, however my eyes were glued to the guy behind the counter. Not only was he a very tall man but his short hair was spiked and candy apple red… Fascinating.

                My nostrils were accosted by the most delicious smell, which had me salivating and strongly reminded me of my childhood days in Germany, when my mom took me to the local butcher in town.  Not only were there beautiful cuts of meat in the display case, but before I could utter a word, we were greeted by a young man who pushed glasses of red wine in our hands and pointed us in the direction of a rustic farm table laden with samples from the store and Dario’s farm, which is only 3km from town. There were cold cuts and tartar samples along with bread and fresh olive oil. We snacked, drank and conversed with the young man. This was truly lovely, but we had come to enjoy lunch and I was confused as to where that would take place. Maybe I had read something wrong and we had to change venues.

                The young man then asked us if we wanted a burger. My husband and in-laws nodded their heads in agreement as I was still trying to figure out where the cooking would happen. He waved us along and we stepped up to the white tiled wall just to the side of the counter.  Standing in our small group staring at a blank tile wall, I was really confused and about to cut my losses. This place and its inhabitants were truly mad.

                Dario, cackling like the Mad Butcher he is, saw our confusion and declared that now we would discover the true secret of his shop!  Stepping from behind his counter to stand beside us, Dario pushed on the wall and it slid open to reveal a staircase leading to the rooftop of the building. We were ushered into the space and up the stairs by Dario and his young assistant and the door closed behind us.  We climbed the stairs and at the top we were greeted by an older, but just as eager gentleman. He walked us outside to a large community table were the party was already in full swing.

                We sat down, greeted those around us and looked about in wonder. The patio overlooked the hills and was bordered by pergolas, vines and flowers.  The menu consisted of two choices; the famous Dario Burger and an Assortment of Meats (including Tuscan Sushi). Our party all had the Dario Burger except one, who tried the assortment.  The accompanying breads, vegetables and pickles were all obviously fresh and homemade.  Just make sure you arrive with an empty stomach because the portions are very generous. The burger was wonderfully seasoned with herbs and Dario's house made Tuscan Salt and the pepper relish, our favorite, was also made with produce from Dario's farm. We ate until we cried for mercy. Everything was outstanding and the easy atmosphere, combined with the fresh air was lovely.

                After the meal they brought out JUGS, yes seriously they were huge, of high proof spirits ("Military Grade" on the menu), and plopped them down onto the table. There was no limit other than the one you set for yourself and my dear father in law fell in love with Grappa and left Dario’s happy, well fed and slightly buzzed.

                When finished with the meal we departed the way we came, down the stairs and through the wall.  We stopped briefly in the shop to purchase some of Dario's amazing products, such as the pepper relish and the Tuscan salt.  Dario was nowhere in sight, so we were able to escape with our lives.

                Of course we will have lunch with the Mad Butcher on our “Bella Toscana” tour.  Everybody needs to enjoy this one of a kind experience.




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