The Name of American Cattle Cuts in the various Regions
What I am every day more convinced as long as I increase my experience in the comparison with foreign friends, is that Italy lives the paradox of being a nation known by anyone but in an extraordinarily superficial way. And in many ways it could not be different: what Italians are today represents the fruit of a cultural and historical interweaving that is so stratified and complex that it is almost impossible even for us to be able to really know all our traditions from the Alps to the Ionian. To let understand the concept to the many foreign readers who follow us through an example, we just specify that Italy is typically associated abroad with four things: pizza, pasta, mafia and mandolin. Well I am fully Italian but
- In the region where I live the first pizzerias appeared only in the 50’s and still today are (unfortunately) of fairly low average quality, at least compared to those of central Italy. I remember very well when as a boy I used t tell my grandmother that I would not stay home for dinner because I would had go out with friends to eat a pizza and how she scolded me, inviting me to eat “real” food. For her it was a kind of trendy palliative to a meal, as a sandwich at the pub could have be. Poor grandma, she was of Friulian origins and she could not even speech the word very well and came out with something that sounded more like “Piccha”.
- Again in my northwest the historical culture of pasta (unfortunately still), except for very rare exceptions such as Tajarin, practically does not exist. All the traditional dishes of that area are rice based. The famous Risotto alla Milanese is a classic example. The image of Pulcinella that drops a handful of pasta into his mouth from above could not be further from the eating habits of our ancestors. If you drive through the Piedmont you will see endless stretches of rice paddies as far as the eye can see, but not even an ear of wheat.
- I have not (in this case fortunately) ever lived direct experience of relations with mafia. I’ve never met a person who was asked about lace, I’ve never personally experienced such interference in the various businesses I’ve lived on different levels, and most of the things I know about it comes from the movies and the newscasts
- I had to search on google what shape a mandolin has because I think I have never seen one live and I know its sound only because it is present in very famous popular songs as “funiculas funiculà” that however are heard here only as a soundtrack of Neapolitan folklore events.
It ‘s just an example but the same thing could be said for a south tyroler for whom Italian is just a second language or for a Sicilian who would rightly struggle to conceive as “Italian” to see the fog every morning or being cold and detached as objectively we “polenta eaters” are. Again for the benefit of foreign readers, I quote an old movie from the 50’s by Totò, a famous Italian comedian actor, in which he played a Neapolitan who was going to Milan for the first time, and who addressed a policeman speaking in a pseudo-French, convinced to be in a different country than his own. All of this just to make it clear that saying “Italian” is a bit like saying everything and nothing.
Our nation is the result of a geographical union, rather than a cultural one. Our history derives from a complex feudal past, on which the most varied dominations, from the Greek to the Arab one, to the Norman one. Every country, even the smallest has developed its own autonomy and built its own specificities, its traditions, its own way of cooking, even its own language. Many Italian dialects are in fact officially classified as real “languages”, they do not have enough elements in common with the national one to be considered as its derivations. Many of us grew up listening to their own dialect and the official Italian only as a common language. Always to make the idea to foreign friends, we take for example the Italian expression that describes the reason why we are here: ‘divertirsi‘ (in English to have fun). In Lombardy one would say ‘svariass‘, in Sicily ‘allanàrisi‘, in Calabria ‘scialàrsi‘, in Lazio ‘ciàciarèse‘, in Liguria ‘demôse‘, in Sardinia ‘ispassiai‘, etc. But it is not that all: always for example, entering Lombardy there will be further distinctions depending on the province and in some cases even the location. Just think that Bergamo is 90 km far from my house but when I hear a Bergamasco speaking in his narrow dialect, I swear I do not understand a word.
Precisely this enormous heterogeneity probably unique in the world, represents our wealth and our condemnation at the same time. Hence our 487 different cheeses, the 406 wines only between DOC and DOCG, a heritage of regional dishes that can not be really calculated but which in a summary attempt of classification has been estimated in over 2300 typical recipes. But in return there are also identities so different as to make it almost impossible to make a real uniformity, an artistic, cultural and gastronomic richness so great that it can not be really valued, a mentality of division and protection of “our own” that can not be reconciled with the modern (and profitable) policies of globalization.
This is also reflected in the world of meat, where however in my opinion unfortunately, the negative sides far exceed the positive ones. For example, in the United States there has been an official national classification of beef cuts (as well as other animal categories) promoted and protected by the USDA, which attributes a code and a name to each one, precisely defining its position, processing and characteristics. But not only: it also defines a classification that measures and “binds” the qualitative values of each production and which makes the meat fall within some ranges (Prime, Choice, Select mainly). This develops a market to protect the consumer, making it independent, able to understand what you are selling just by looking at a mark and reading a label and forcing the sales mechanisms to deviate from the fable of “my uncle’s breeding who holds only two cattles, to whom he feeds as once and who sings them a lullaby song before killing so as not to incur traumas“. Of course, applying a model of this type is not possible here because it would mean to flatten a history and traditions considered in our country, wrongly or rightly, as a resource to be protected by any means. Because in Italy to understand each other about the cuts, especially concerning beef is practically impossible: not only every geographical area (which are many more than the mere regions) has its own name for each of them but there are also several cutting schools from which they a obtains different cuts. I live in Lombardy, 4 kilometers from the border of Piedmont where, for example, Piedmontese processing is common. The same name also means the typical local breed, which has a very important muscle mass, small bones, very high yield, a very lean meat and tending to the so called “fever” (an intense red color that tends easily to oxidation on the sides and that sometimes gives to some cuts a characteristic double color). It is therefore logical that they tend to work with far fewer anatomical subdivisions (some cuts in the Piedmont tradition do not exist because they did not tend to divide that anatomic part) aiming at dishes based on raw meat like the famous Albese and relegating the remaining tigny cuts to boiled courses, and with frequent boning (in Piedmont the concept of “Tied Roast” obtained by many cuts is very common). But if I move towards the east to Milan, where the Lombard processing takes place, there is a definite opening towards an international concept of cutting. There the nomenclature looks a lot more like the “official” national one, the bone in steak is a much more common practice and rooted in levels that only Tuscany, Umbria and a few other regions are able to overcome (think of a recipe historical and traditional: the Cotoletta alla Milanese). And my home is only 56 km from Milan! Multiply this for the 1775 km that run between Aosta and Marsala and you will have an idea of the extent to which even today, although there should be a common national terminology in this regard, there is about the comparison between the various local processing a tremendous confusion that mixes local terms with the national or even confuses them with the others.
Imagine now what could have happened when in recent years the request of the consumer caused the needing to introduce terminologies and name of cuts of the American matrix: further confusion on confusion. Which national cuts do they match? And how do these translate into local terminologies? With reference to which kind of processing? It occurred to me, therefore, to try to create a dictionary of the most typically requested cuts of the American culture, which provides at least at a regional translation of the names used. To do this, I requested the collaboration of AIMA (Associazione Italiana Macellerie Artigiane), the trade association that probably more in Italy promoted the professional updating of the sector and the technical elevation of the butcher’s work at level 2.0 and in this case I had the honor of collaborating directly with his president Francesco Camassa for the south Italy part, with friend Federico Dal Lago for Triveneto, with Lorenzo Rizzieri for Emilia Romagna, with Andrea Laganga for Tuscany, with Maurizio Gasparrini for Marche. To these I added a request for collaboration avito Donato Turba for Lombardy and Carlo Ferrando for Liguria. For the specific case of Piedmontese slaughter, I finally asked for help by Sebastiano Sapino, a great friend of mine and last of three generations of slaughterers in the Cuneo area as well as expert in this process.
A very interesting and varied picture emerged. What turns out is that in general, many American cuts in our tradition simply did not exist. They were introduced in our market only in relatively recent times, following the Mussolinian memory phase in which we tended to Italianise any name. So it happens that in a nation so poor in history on the culture of the steak, the concept of RibEye had not really been taken into consideration previously, except in rare cases. So the term simply did not undergo translation and began to treat it directly using its original name. It must therefore be claimed that a prepared butcher knows this term without further clarification. In the same way, however, there are surprisingly regional exceptions that facilitate our work. The cutting of the Denver Steak, for example, derives from the separation of one of the shoulder muscle bands and some local processes already envisaged this practice by attributing to them their own dialectal name. Or again, the cut of the Beef Ribs also exists in the culture of Piedmontese slaughter, it is called Scaramella, with the only difference that tradition would like to sell it boneless, so just ask the butcher for the bone in Scaramella. Finally, there are all the cuts that, despite being very well known, have been rediscovered in a grilling key only in recent times, but which therefore have a very valid regional translation, such as the Cappello del Prete.
Before proceeding to present the result of common work, some necessary clarifications: there is a lot of confusion on the terms, otherwise there would be no need for this post. So do not be surprised if you see names that in national parlance refer to a cut, while in regional expressions they mean anything else (examples are the name “Reale” or the expression “Aletta“). In addition, many regional cutting schools not only do not use to get to the level of detail of American work, but sometimes not even to national ones. So you will often see expressions like “part of …“, or repeated names just because in that region they do not use to divide that cut into its sub-plains. Finally, where you see white spaces means that not only that cut does not exist in that regional concept but rebuilding its position would be so complex as to make it impossible to use that description to be understood in front of a butcher, and therefore useless for the purposes of this post.
Gentlemen, this is the first regional dictionary of American denominations:
This is a first step in providing you with a common language, thanks to which you can talk to your friend butcher, but as you can see, there are still several regions missing, as surely there will be many additional expressions more. Feel free to report any omissions or clarifications necessary to get to further improve this tool, making it even more useful to all other readers.
And now …. good grilling! 😉