The crusade of Fracassi, the king of Chianina

His butcher shop turns 90: and Simone continues his work, defending "true" meat. With new ideas...

31-07-2017

Simone Fracassi, a great butcher and guardian of authenticity, launched an idea: Italian cuisine around the world should be safeguarded by Unesco as a world immaterial heritage

Saying that thick blood runs in Simone Fracassi, born in 1965, is even banal: he’s a butcher. And what a butcher! He’s the king of Chianina, the prophet of Prosciutto del Casentino, a fundamentalist of (healthy) meat. His butcher shop in Rassina di Castel Focognano, in the Casentino area of Arezzo, has a long history, starting in 1927: 90 years and it doesn’t show. He explains: «My father Gianfranco came from a family of barrocci [cart] makers and collectors of leather, brass and knick-knacks. He married my mum, Pina, the daughter of Angiolo Bruschi, a butcher and the son of Antonio and Menchina, who were also butchers».

The maternal tradition entered the Fracassi family: «they opened the butcher shop in 1927 in Rassina, inside the ancient village. They then moved to the mountains, to Chiusi della Verna, and in 1976 they were back in Rassina in a building my father owned, where he previously kept horses». Since then, they’ve never moved even though the shop has changed: «Initially, we had Chianina and some less precious varieties, the most requested, due to their price. I made a drastic choice: more quality, less clients. I’m not rich now, I live with my family in a 65 square metres flat, I have a car that has already completed 515000 km and a Ducati with 450000, I chase debtors who won’t pay my invoices but I’m proud of my work». This is Fracassi: drastic and without any half measures. Take it or leave it.

He’s a no man rather than a yes man. He said no to Oscar Farinetti, when he opened him the doors to Eataly: «He wanted my Prosciutto del Casentino: but a pig is made of more than thighs, you need to process it, buy the whole animal», so nothing. He said no to an entrepreneur who begged him to make truffle salami: «You can’t handle the bacteria without adding chemicals». He said no to the exporter in Dubai who only wanted to buy filet and sirloin: «What am I supposed to do with the rest of the animal?». He said no to the Consorzio tutela della finocchiona Igp, which he left, «with those rules, you could make it anywhere», so he named his own “culacciona”.

He said no to thick ossobuco «it comes from the Netherlands and is packed with oestrogens». His ossobuco is an inch thick. He said no to counterfeiting, to sugar-coated products, to pumped up muscles, «we’re no longer used to meat that needs to be chewed, not a mush. Then, of course, I have my devices: one week of ageing at the slaughterhouse, then I put everything in a vacuum, where the process continues, so the meat gets softer». I even made experiments with extreme ageing, like 500 days, or 120 days in water.

He only uses trusted breeders: three give him pigs that scratch about in the woods, of which he makes extraordinary Prosciutti del Casentino, a Slow Food presidium, with very strict regulations, «there are no pigs as traceable as these, in Italy». Vanni Finocchi supplies the Chianina meat: «my grandfather already considered it as a point of reference». It’s in Caprese Michelangelo, the hometown to Buonarroti, 650 metres above the sea level, also in the province of Arezzo. He buys the entire production, and if he needs more, he asks to other small breeders, in Poppi and Anghiari. He slaughters up to 40-50 Chianine cows per year, on top of some sixty wild pigs.

Salami under the Fracassi brand

Salami under the Fracassi brand

Fracassi has clear rules. First of all, respect the time an animal needs to grow, and take care of its diet, «I’m interested in knowing if the animal ate well, lived well». Secondly: «Make clients sure that what they eat is healthy. There are no rules or certificates that can be as relevant as the ethics of the producer». Utopia, I mess with him. «No, you need to do some research – he replies briskly – Saying “I like that product” is meaningless. Taste is ok, it’s personal, but what are you eating? You can “like” an industrial burger, but we need to know what meat is in it. So basically you need research on one hand, and ethics on the other, «it’s a matter of credibility: if Franco Cazzamali guarantees the quality of some meat, I believe him. If Michele Sabatino tells me it’s Podolica, I believe him. If Aldo Zivieri ensures it’s Razza Piemontese, the same applies, though I might ask him why he’s not investing on the Romagnola breed».

One might say: these are excellences for few. «That’s not true. We have beautiful breeds, like Chianina, Marchigiana, Piemontese, Romagnola, Maremmana, Podolica, as well as Sarda and Ragusana. Yet we sell them much less than cattle from the US or Argentina. People often speak of “fake Chianina”. There is some, it’s true. But we could easily breed four times as many animals, reach 200 thousand, there’s enough space. But you won’t make as much money because there are those who, in order for the animal to reach a specific weight, will give it a few shots». This is a doped, unfair competition. Instead, we need to respect animals, we need the passion that Fracassi got «by going about with his grandfather Angiolo, known as Ghiaiolo. My surname was instead Ciaccamerda [step on shit] because I would play football with my friends after going to the stables», and one could tell by the not very clean state of my shoes. «Today, I’m proud of it».

Fracassi at work in his butcher shop

Fracassi at work in his butcher shop

Fracassi inherited this authentic countryside culture, when people kept their words, «of course, there were sly people even then, but food safety was guaranteed by ignorance». People had no idea how to dope an animal, «we know more now, and often use our better knowledge in a negative way».

In order to change paradigm and «make use of our potential food excellence, we need to beat imitations. We complain about the fake Parmesan produced abroad, but we’re champions at falsifications! I say: just make Parmigiano only using milk from the Bianca Modenese or Rossa Reggiana breeds and you’ll see it will be impossible to imitate». Again, there’s a risk of utopia, but Fracassi has also had a concrete idea: make Italian cuisine become an immaterial world heritage, safeguarded by Unesco, «so as to preserve the good things we do, and do it abroad too and have positive consequences over here as well. Enhancing their value». Fracassi doesn’t give up.


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