Bistecca alla Fiorentina has become a signature dish of Tuscany in part because it is produced from the meat of the Chianina, an Italian breed of cattle, one of the oldest in the world, that has been raised in Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio for more than 2,000 years. Originally a draught breed, Chianina oxen eventually were displaced by mechanization and breeders turned to selecting animals with shorter limbs, longer bodies and heavily muscled rumps and thighs that were more suitable for meat production.

Some food writers trace the history of bistecca alla Fiorentina to the House of Medici in Renaissance Florence, the city after which the dish is named.  During the Festa of San Lorenzo in August the city traditionally was illuminated by large bonfires in which beef was grilled then distributed to the population.  A group of English knights present on one occasion, when offered the meat, correctly identified it, in English, as “beef steak.”  In Italian, that morphed into bistecca, and the rest is culinary history.

Today Chianina are raised almost exclusively for high quality meat.  The breed is the tallest and heaviest breed of cattle, its coat is white with slight grey shading around the eyes and its hooves and the tips of its horns are black.  


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