We all know the Italians love pork: roast pork, grilled pork, cured pork and cold pork. In the north of Italy, however, beef is king. This is partly due to the relatively cooler climate: cows don’t like heat which is why olive oil, not butter, is the fat of choice in the south of Italy and also why sheep’s cheeses replace cows cheese the further south you go.
We went to Lombardy recently and there were lots of beef dishes on menus but, with no knowledge of Italian beef or butchery, it would be hard to know what you’re eating so I thought I’d start with a bit of an Italian lesson. Firstly vitello: this is always translated as veal but nowadays it generally only means milk fed veal if vitello di latte is stipulated. Vitello is usually an animal that is reared outside and slaughtered at about 6 months of age, similar to our rose veal. Manzo is beef and usually comes from bullocks killed at about 2 years of age. Occasionally you see Manzetta which is meat from a heifer. It is much less common and, maybe because of this, is more highly prized (it is supposed to be more tender). Cattle that are older than veal but younger than adult beef are eaten in countries where the climate is too hot to permit hanging the meat without extensive refrigeration. This is called vitellone in Italian (bouvillon in French).
The Italians butcher their beef in a different pattern than we do, dissecting muscles to provide a higher proportion of meat for grilling and frying. For instance, a cut from the fore rib, which in Britain would be used exclusively for roasting, is divided by the Italians into the tougher muscles, which are sold for stew and tender ones, sold as best quality steak.
Why am I giving this anatomical lecture? Just because beef has been on my mind as well as my plate quite a lot recently: as we head towards summer Elliott and I can’t stop eating Carne Salada from Trentino. This piece of beef (from the salmon cut) sits in a tank of salt, bay, rosemary and thyme for 40 days and is then ready to eat. More like a raw carpaccio of beef, it is incredibly tender and perfumed with herbs. Massimo who makes it loves it with mozzarella. We love it with anything.