Profumo del Chianti is a simple enough thing. Snowy white Italian sea salt, finely ground and infused with highly aromatic herbs including rosemary and lavender. It’s sold to tourists in jars and vacuum packed bags that are perfect for travel.
But the man behind this uncomplicated, aromatic seasoning is no simpleton.
Dario Cecchini, the Dante quoting butcher from Bill Buford’s book “Heat”, is a culinary rock star. Tour busses carrying food lovers from around the world speed past ancient churches and art museums and head directly for the tiny butcher shop tucked into the hills of Chianti. Dario’s butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, has catered to locals for over 250 years. Thanks to Dario and his larger than life personality, the Antica Macelleria Cecchini now serves finely whipped lardo, beautifully butchered meat and gorgeous salume to thousands of meat loving tourists from around the world.
If you are in Italy, all you need is a GPS set to Panzano Italy and then look for the crowd of people milling around the sidewalk with glasses of wine and slices of salame in their hands. Step inside the meat locker sized shop and take in the sights: there’s a wood table decorated with a cutting board covered in sliced meats, jars of spicy marmalade, a bowl of whipped lardo with rosemary. There are house cured salumes hanging from the ceiling and a painting of Dante on the wall.
While on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited the Antica Macelleria Cecchini twice in one week. On the first day, we walked in the door and immediately knew we had found Dario when we saw the big chested man in a leather vest. There may be a handful of men working at Antica Macelleria Cecchini, but Dario Cecchini is impossible to miss. His larger than life personality and the constant swarm of people around him make Dario the obvious center of attention.
I watched Dario with star-struck reverence as he spoke Italian with the booming voice of a stage performer. Though I couldn’t understand a word of what he said, there was a lot I could surmise by his dramatic hand gestures and expressive face. I feared that my skills of pantomime would not translate well, so I kept my head down and avoided asking questions about the unfamiliar products he offered up for sale on his shelves. Looking for something that would travel well in our tightly packed suitcases, my husband and I bought a number of vacuum packed bags of white stuff labled Profumo. Though we had no idea what it was we were buying or how we would cook with it, the label made us think what we were purchasing was just what we needed. We both smiled when we read in loosely translated English: “breathe in deeply for sudden attacks of nostalgia”.
Luckily, on day two of our trip to Panzano, we learned the best way to use our Profumo. Sprinkled on a plate and submerged in a bath of olive oil, the Profumo makes an excellent dipping sauce for crudite. At Cecchini’s beautiful new restaurant, Solociccia, they offered freshly picked vegetables and profumo in oil to guests as an antipasti course. The guests oohed and aaahed over the incredible flavors. The Profumo elevates the food, without drowning out the true essence of the ingredients.
Hans and I were in heaven nibbling on a carrot that was dipped in the olive oil, salt and herb mixture. We shook our heads in shock. How could something so simple be so good? Certainly this is what Alice Waters thinks of when she serves a perfectly ripe fruit for dessert or the why Sushi Chef Nozawa refuses to put anything on an amazingly fresh piece of fish. Let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves.
It’s been little more than a month since our return from our honeymoon, and already I’m experiencing extreme attacks of nostalgia. After my trip to the farmer’s market I cut up the world’s largest radish,
A bunch of carrots and fresh top celery. I poured a bit of profumo into a dish and covered it in golden, extra virgin olive oil.
My eyes rolled back as I studied the sweetness of the carrot and how it played against the saltiness of the Profumo. I savored the crunch of the radish and its peppery spice. I brought the dish of oil and profumo to my nose and took in a deep breath until I was back again in Panzano.
In my dream, Dario smiled at me and nodded knowingly. I had come back to Panzano once more. And this time, I understood exactly what he was saying.