Review of Sagra della Bistecca (Cortona)
I went up to collect my 1.2kg steak at the Sagra della Bistecca. “How many people is that for”, I was asked. “One”, I replied. The server raised her eyebrows in what was clearly a sign of admiration and hero-worship.
Sagra della Bistecca
One of the flagship events of my T-Bone Tour of Tuscany was the 59th edition of the Sagra della Bistecca (a festival dedicated to T-Bone steak) in Cortona. Cortona is an ancient town between Florence and Siena and not far from Arezzo. Its perched on the hills overlooking the Marciano della Chiana valley where the republics of Florence and Sienna once slugged it out in the sixteenth century (Florence won and the area we know today as Tuscany was formed).
The Sagra della Bistecca is one of the oldest steak festivals in Italy and is run by the local sports club in Cortona. This festival is famed for its enormous custom grill. We arrived around 5.30pm to get a feel for the place ahead of the 6pm start of the festival. We were far too early.
Tickets and Entry
Tickets are sold from 6pm from little booths at the two entrances and the festival was serving food from after 7pm. In 2018 there was a common menu with two steak choices: a 700g T-Bone for 29 Euro or a 1.2kg Bistecca alla Fiorentina for 39 Euro. Along with the steak you get: a whole bottle of wine, a large bottle of water, tomatoes, beans, bread and… a peach!
We walked around the festival and found seats on the edge of the park overlooking the Chiana valley. While the scene was stunning, the atmosphere was disturbed by a very middle-aged man trying to sing Italian pop music on a keyboard. I speak lightly when I say it was god-awful. I distracted myself from the poor music by watching the grill chefs prepare the grill. They lit dried out shrubs on fire (they were quickly engulfed in flames) and placed them under the charcoal grill. It smoked heavily. About 40 minutes later the first steaks were placed on the grill.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak)
I chose the larger 1.2kg steak (I don’t see the point of thin cut T-Bone steaks). It was cooked on the grill (quite quickly) and then bathed in some sort of warm olive oil sauce before being served to me. The steak was enormous.
My T-bone was mostly sirloin with a small piece of fillet. It was cooked with a thin crust. I carved into it and the steak was cooked blue (if this is a problem you need to ask for the steak to be cooked longer). The little bit of fillet was fantastic. However, the sirloin part of the T-bone should have been cooked a bit longer (it was a little too cool in the middle) and despite being very tender there wasn’t much taste.
The wine is labelled for the event. It’s a Chianti (local to the area) and complemented the steak really well. The tomatoes were also excellent – having a real taste rather than the gooey texture we get in the UK.
The Sagra della Bistecca is a traditional celebration of T-Bone steak. Although the steak isn’t exceptional, you get a lot of value for your money and the festival grounds are both stunning and atmospheric.
No missed steak
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Tips for visiting Sagra della Bistecca
If you’re planning to visit Sagra della Bistecca next year or in subsequent years its likely you’ll encounter poor communication regarding the timing of the festival. I struggled to get clear dates even after contacting the organisers. It was only clear when I arrived in Cortona and saw poster (the dates for 2018 were actually the 12-15th August).
Where: The festival is in the stunning Parterre park.
When: On the 15th of August and the days immediately before.. This coincides with the national holiday of Ferragosto/Assumption. The festival opens at 6pm, but the steak isn’t ready until after 7pm. Unless you want to secure a seat with a view over the valley, there’s no need to arrive early.
How: Nearest airports are Perugia and Florence. It’s best to drive to Cortona.