Friday 5 December 2014


Scirocco, Amadeo's prize Chianina bull
Outside of Cantalupo on the SR313 is the GS Supermarket. When you cannot find what you want at the smaller Conad Market in Casperia, this is one of the places where people go to shop when they don't want to bus or drive all the way to Poggio Mirteto.

Entrance photo of G.S. Market Cantalupo courtesy of G.S. Market Cantalupo website
A while back, our friend Stefano showed us how to make the ragù he uses at his restaurant. It was quite a process that required specific ingredients including above all Sabina D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil from our friend Andrea's parents' farm at Castelnuovo di Farfa, and certified organic beef which Stefano buys at GS Market from Amedeo, one of the owners who works behind the well stocked butcher and deli counter there. 

One day Stefano took us to shop at G.S. Market and introduced us to Amedeo, an ex-policeman of sturdy build. We got to talking about the meat he sold, much of which is raised on his own farm. On top of the counter there was a large display explaining the Chianina breed of cattle he raises. Stefano explained that this was the breed of cattle which produced the meat that he used at the restaurant. 

Amedeo went on to explain that the Chianina was one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world and that because of their massive size and strength Chianina were, up until recently, primarily used as draught animals.

Stefano explained to Amedeo that I wrote a blog about the Sabina. Amedeo in turn invited us to come visit him on his farm and see Scirocco, his massive prize Chianina bull.   

My mother was brought up on  farm in Prince Edward Island. My father, when he was in his teens, worked on a turkey farm associated with the University of Guelf in Ontario. It is my guess that both of them are much more acquainted with the circle of life that sees cute baby cows, pigs, lambs and chickens eventually end up on a dinner plate.

During my close to sixty years on this planet I, as a privileged North American, have consumed more than my fair share of animal protein. I am fully aware of what happens behind the scenes in order for me to eat a steak, a burger, a roast chicken, or a rack of lamb. There have been times in my life when I was headed toward vegetarianism but never quite made it. Heaven help me, I am a meat eater.

So it was quite an experience to drive out with Stefano and Nicoleta and visit Amedeo's farm and meet his prize Chianina bull Scirocco... a gentle, Ferdinand of a bull if I ever met one. 

The perspective is a bit misleading. Scirocco is a huge, magnificent animal
These younger Chianine were quite curious... Perhaps we were the first Canadians they had seen on the farm
Amedeo led Scirocco out of his pen so that we could get a better look. Remember, Amedeo himself is a big burly man... This hopefully gives you an idea of how big Scirocco is.

We were then invited to stand beside Scirocco for a picture... The reason why Richard and I look large relative to this majestic bull is that we were standing a few respectful paces away.

Here I was standing beside not only over 2000 years of breed history... the same breed of white cattle that most likely pulled Romulus' plow when he was delineating the initial boundaries of his new city Rome...

Photo of this suovetaurelia courtesy of Wikipedia
...the same magnificent white bulls you see in the Ara Pacis and other ancient Roman monuments showing the suovetaurelia, a pig, a sheep and a bull being led to the sacrifice....  

but also, sadly one day for Scirocco, the famous beef used when cooking Bistecca alla fiorentina, and Stefano's ragù.

Amedeo's farm lies among gently rolling green hills to the south of Cantalupo near the recently restored Sant'Adamo church

To the east you have a wonderful view of Poggio Catino. 

Poggio Catino in the distance
To the west is a checkerboard of pastures and olive groves from which Amedeo harvests some great Sabina D.O.P. Olive oil.

Scirocco, from all that I could see, led a pretty good life on Amedeo's farm. He is a prize stud bull... He gets all the food, sex and rest a guy could need... But then there is the dark at the end of the tunnel...  

When we visited Amedeo's farm the clock had been ticking for Scirocco... Apparently he only had a couple of more weeks to left and then...  By the time we would be heading back to Canada, Scirocco would be slaughtered, butchered, and end up as so many anonymous cuts of meat on a plate of fine china served on a candle-lit white linen covered table with a side of roast potatoes, a steaming plate of chicory, and a great bottle of Sagrantino. Hopefully, at some point in the meal, the thoughts turn from business, or romance, or the impending bill, to the source of the delicious steak on the plate... and that the diners are mindful and thankful.

When I was younger, we would always say grace before meals. "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen." I understood that we were thanking God for the food on the table, and asking God to bless what we were about to eat.  

Here in the Sabina, there it is impossible to delude oneself into thinking even for a second that steaks and chops are born in the supermarket. When you see a chicken at the macelleria, it still has its head and feet attached. Along with the nicely prepared loin cuts, roasts and steaks are displayed more recognizable body parts: pigs feet, beef tongue, tripe, even lambs heads... 

Their lifeless eyes stare out of the glass case at you as you are waiting for your sausage and pork chops... 

No... Meat comes from animals... Soft, cuddly, cute, sometimes affectionate, pain-feeling animals.

I remember a Jamie Oliver show from a couple of years back. I think it was called Jamie's Great Italian Escape. It was a brilliantly done culinary tour of Italy in which Jamie visited a number of different Italian regions sharing their culinary treasures... The highlight for me was when Jamie visited Farfa Abbey and worked with the monks in the Abbey kitchen. I loved it...  

One of the things that struck me about that particular show was when Jamie was going to cook lamb and the family who owned the farm invited Jamie to actually slaughter the little sheep... something he had never done before.  I don't know if I could ever do that myself... I have caught, killed, butchered and eaten salmon and other fish, but a lamb or a calf... I don't think I could do it... 

Posing with Stefano and Nicoleta, Amedeo's son and wife and the family's sheep dogs.  
But that is the life of those who live and work on a farm. From what I could see and understand Amedeo and his family are committed to raising top quality animals raised in an idyllic environment and which are fed only natural and organic feed. And I am grateful to these amazing people who do this work that puts meat on my table... 

Nicoleta gets an inquisitive nudge from a sheep dog while I make friends with another
Later that night, back at Il Sogno, we had a light meal... Italian olives, bruschette with mountain prosciutto (pig), a salad of arugula, tomatoes, and chickpeas, and some of Richard's amazing risotto with porcini funghi (chicken in the stock).  

As we prepared the meal I reflected on each ingredient and its origins... This and that comes from plant... This prosciutto was a pig's leg... once attached to hopefully a happy living pig... Chickens died for this rice rice dish... It wasn't a macabre meditation... I was being mindful and feeling thankful.   

Postscript: At the time of this writing. one and a half years after our visit to Amedeo's farm and our encounter with Scirocco, it is our understanding that Scirocco, for the time being anyway, is still with us.