One of the funniest statements I have heard from a guest in over 15 years of teaching about food and cooking is the following:
“I have realized I need to have a relation with a butcher”.
And indeed, if you eat high quality meat, you will probably agree that counting on a competent butcher it’s a necessity.
Someone who is capable to advice you on the origin of the meat, the treatment of the animals and the choice of a cut will make all the difference on the outcome of your recipe and how you feel about eating something wholesome, healthy and sustainable.
In rural Umbria, where even the supermarket stock local meats, a reliable butcher is respected as much as the pharmacist.
Should you be in our area of Umbria, don’t miss to visit “my” butcher’s shop, Macelleria il Castello, owned by the Berti’s family, near Assisi. You will find young Francesco and Alessandro at the counter where – besides meat – they supply a rainbow of local delicatessen such as heritage lentils, honey, bread, olive oil, truffles, spices and even wine.
Mamma Tania takes care of the kitchen where all sort of delicious, ready-to-cook meats are prepared using fresh herbs (I donate my own rosemary sometime) and vegetables often produced by their farm. Just like us they have a “no chemical” policy in their food. I have been in their kitchen a few times and I haven’t seen an artificial condiment or improver anywhere, only real food.
Honestly, I am proud to support a family business like this one and I admire their committment and passion for what they do.
The Berti’s have been breeding Chianina cows for 4 generations in their farm, which is located a mere 15 min. drive from the shop. Although not 100% free ranging, the cows are gently treated, have plenty space and the option of walking in and out of the stables and socialize with each other.
When I visited the farm, I loved to see them walking towards Daniele, who is responsible of the farm, to greet him like a friend.
The magnificent Chianina breed, among the oldest in the world, owes its name to the Val di Chiana, a region in between Tuscany and Umbria. The Chianina is a very large breed of cattle. Mature bulls stand up to a jaw-dropping 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) at the withers and their weight might exceed 1,600 kg (3,500 lb) in weight.
Chianina meat is lean with light marbling and hardly any cholesterol and is considered fine meat, especially the back-lumbar region, from which the famous Florentine steaks are obtained.
In Umbria we don’t eat such thick steaks, preferring the entrecote or rump which is quickly seared, then sliced paper thin and served with either olive oil and rosemary or a salad of arugula and tomatoes. This dish is called the “tagliata” which you easily find in any decent restaurant.
Mamma Tania has gifted me with their family recipe for pot roast. Although similar to the American dish, it’s cooked just enough to be tender and juicy but not falling apart.
Meat cuts differ from one to another country. My US friend and meat expert Jeff Masters advices to use the following cuts for this recipe: round roast, top round, bottom round, sirloin tip(called a tri tip), or an eye of round. In the UK, a topside or silver side is considered ideal for pot roast.
- 1 kg/2 lb roast lean beef, tied
- 1 tablespoon flour or starch
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 4 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 4 bay leaves
- 1/2 bottle red wine
- 2-3 cups vegetable broth
- extra virgin olive oil
Bring the beef at room temperature. Lightly dredge with flour or cornstarch.
Preheat oven 325°F (165°C)
Heat a cast iron casserole pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add immediately the meat and brown it evenly, turning every few minutes. This step will take about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the roast. Keep the pan covered to avoid splutter.
When the roast is well browned on all sides add all vegetables, herbs, the wine and broth to cover. Close with a heavy lid and transfer into the preheated oven.
Roast for about one hour for medium rare or until reaching an internal temperature of 145°F (60°C) .
Turn the roast every 15-20 min adding more liquid if necessary. Remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 min in a warm place then slice thinly and keep warm.
While Tania likes to blend the vegetables and juices into a thick sauce, we prefer to serve them on the side and drizzle everything with best quality olive oil.
Transfer slices and juices on a pre-heated dish and serve.
BTW, for the carnivore in you, there is still time!