A masterclass in Italian beef

I love steak, well the cooking and eating of it anyway. I can’t claim to be a hands on expert in the husbandry of animals or the cleaving of larger chunks of meat, so the opportunity to learn more about butchery, the Fassona breed, Italian beef culture and then to feast on a truckload of beef at Macellaio’s butchery masterclass sounded bellissimo. 

Macellaio’s Masterclass

I was curious about Macellaio’s butchery class from the moment I visited their website. I enquired a couple of days before the class and both Will and I (steak society cofounders) were suddenly in a group in front of two Italian butchers and an impressive lay of meat.

The masterclass was run by two young Italian butchers. One was the mouthpiece, confidently and passionately explaining while the other, the muscle, masterfully and effortlessly butchered the meat. The demonstration itself begun with preparation of the Costata (rib), Fiorentina (T-bone) steaks and a whole leg of Prosciutto before talking in detail about the special breed of cow they use (the Fassona cow).

An image of the butchers at Macellaio
The muscle and the mouthpiece

Macellaio only use Fassona cows, this is a special breed of cow from Piedmont, in Northern Italy. The cow has a genetic mutation, resulting in a leaner meat or a higher muscle to fat ratio. Curiously this is the antithesis of what would make a prime USDA steak (which is primarily concerned with marbling as an indication of quality).

Macellaio’s Fassona beef is from cows that are at least four years old. These cows are raised on grass diets in open pastures to cereal, and then from hay to locust beans . The age of the beef is a stark contrast to much of the beef you’ll find the UK, which is from cattle about 2 years old and in the US which is about 1 year old. The more mature beef has a darker red colour.

An image of costata and fiorentina steak
The lay of meat

The beef used in the masterclass (and the cuts on display in the aging cabinets) was a deep red and almost purple. This a result of both the more mature age of the cattle as well as the dry aging of the beef (Macellaio dry age their beef on site for between six and nine weeks).

There were plenty of tips including a Q&A where there was a discussion about what to look for when you are buying steak (selecting steak that is darker red rather than pale), trying the less fashionable cuts like the Hanger and chuck steak (the butcher was quite forceful about encouraging people not to eat Fillet, which he considered the most boring of all steaks). 

We were also taught basic knives skills, to ensure we could cut meat finely without slicing off a finger or performing Seppuku, a Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. We then had the opportunity to attempt these skills.

An image of butcher deboning a leg of Proscuitto
Deboning a leg of Proscuitto

The masterclass lasted for about 90 minutes and then the feast of beef was served.

The feast of beef

This feast is for beef lovers. Not for the faint souls or for anyone part-time vegetarian. The feast is for beef lovers to experience beef in its full and unadulterated glory. The menu is set and it’s assumed that you like you steak rare and you are perfectly fine eating Carpaccio and steak tartare.

The feast is served in five courses: cured meats, steak tartare, beef capriccio, steak with sides and then desert. Drinks are charged and selected separately, we went for a couple of bottles of the Damiano Ciolli Silene (2015), a medium body Italian red wine. It combined brilliantly.

Round 1: The cured meats

We were served a plate of cured meats, beef salami, beef Bresaola (dried, salted beef) and prosciutto ham (that was prepared during the masterclass). I hadn’t had beef salami before, it’s just like regular salami except there is a stronger taste of beef. The prosciutto was outstanding, it was fresh and went brilliantly with the olive oil and bread provided.

An image of partially consumed plate of cured meats.
A partially consumed platter of cured meats (I sometimes forget to follow the sequence of food blogging: Take a shot then eat it).

Round 2: Steak Tartare

Tartare has always been hit and miss for me and I can tire of it quite quickly. I felt excited about the Tartare this time though. The three different steak tartare were as follows: plain tartare, tartare with a layer of blue cheese and another with 11 different spices and ingredients added. The waitress explained each steak tartare and then grabbed a little blowtorch and melted the blue cheese into the steak tartare. This was pretty cool. We were told to eat them in this order: Plain, blue cheese, then spiced.

The plain steak tartare was fresh and simply melted in your mouth. The blue cheese steak tartare was brilliant. I’ve never tried to combine cheese with steak tartare before, but it’s a genius combination and stunningly tasty. The spiced tartare combined the fresh meatiness of the first tartare with a variety of flavours. The blue cheese steak tartar was the best of the three of them and the find of the night.

An image of three steak tartares
Steak Tartare with the blue cheese steak tartare in the middle.

Round 3: Beef Capriccio

We weren’t expecting another starter after having the steak tartare, but were impressed to have beef capriccio. This is very thin slivers of raw steak seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. It tastes very fresh and requires no effort to eat, it simply surrenders to your tongue and dissolves.

An image of beef carpaccio
Beef carpaccio at Macellaio

Round 4: Steak and sides

I’d only just been to Macellaio Exmouth market a few days before where I tried the Tuna steak and the Costata (rib steak). The Costata at the Exmouth market branch didn’t quite deliver the same taste intensity as previous steak at Macellaio.

The tables were stabbed, naturally as per Macellaio’s signature touch, and chef plates were opened to reveal a large Costata steak (rib steak). The steak, aged for between six and nine weeks, was tender and delicious. It had more of a charred taste that was somewhat lacking at the Exmouth market branch. I had absolutely nothing to fault in the steak.  The steak came with sides of fries and some boiled vegetables, which wasn’t particularly appealing or appetizing to me.

An image of Costata Rib Steak
Outstanding Costata (Rib Steak) at Macellaio

Round 5: Dessert

For someone as obsessed as I am with steak, it probably comes as a surprise that I have quite the sweet tooth. We were provided with Tiramisu, which was very creamy and with quite a subtle coffee flavour as well as lemon cheese cake. I can’t fault the desserts. Being the only one at the table with a sweet tooth, I had ALL the dessert.

An image of Tiramisu and lemon cheesecake.
Tiramisu and lemon cheesecake

The verdict:

Macellaio’s butchery masterclass is a tour de force of Italian beef culture. While the butcher experience is primarily a demonstration (with some opportunity for hands on chopping), the knowledge and passion for meat is evident throughout. The five course beef focussed meal that uses the beef from the masterclass is well-selected, appropriate and absolutely delicious. A couple of weeks after the event I’m still fantasising about the blue cheese steak tartare.

Macellaio’s butchery masterclass takes place up to twice a month. If you’re interested in taking part, you can find more details here.

Otherwise if you want to get your teeth into the only place that sells Fassona beef in London, it’s worth booking a table at Macellaio. You can read our restaurant experiences of Macellaio Union St.

Note: The photos are our own candid shots inside Macellaio RC Union St. We apologise that some photos aren’t clear. The lighting inside the restaurant wasn’t conducive to the best photos.

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