Word of Mouth

What Elise Wiggins learned in Italy: You're never too old to learn!

Panzano Executive Chef Elise Wiggins has spent the past few weeks in the small town of Panzano, Italy, doing a stagisti with Dario Cecchini, the mad butcher of Panzano and owner of Antica Macelleria Cecchini.

Elise is now back in Denver, putting the lessons she learned in Italy to use. Read the first installment of her Italian journal here, the second here, and the final installment below:

On my last day we butchered a whole pig in a very different way. In the United States, we usually trim the meat that surrounds the ribs right off. Dario's crew butchers the whole belly off, including that rib meat. In their eyes, it's some of the most moist meat and very important when cooking a porchetta -- and I agree. It's the best part for me. The remaining work was similar to the procedures we used on the whole cow earlier in the week: We cleaned the legs just like we did for that cow, but these were thrown in the hopper to grind for sausage. I don't think very many American chefs could Imagine leg muscle used for sausage.

Dario also grinds his burger meat fresh every day. He holds the meat until the morning of service and then grinds it while adding his special whipped lardo. The burgers are called the McDario. They're not served on a bun, but instead rolled in breadcrumbs and then pan-fried. These burgers are a huge hit during lunch.

On one of our trips to the market, we picked up this lemon. It was huge. I have big hands, and this thing was hard to grip. I couldn't even wrap my hands around it. The produce here was amazing.

Overall, my two weeks in Panzano with the Mad Butcher turned my culinary world upside down in a great way. In culinary school and throughout my career, I've been taught to do things a certain way and how each part of the animal can successfully be used for specific things. My experience with Dario flipped that around. For example, he uses leg muscle for tartare instead of just the tenderloin.

His experience and success show that there are many ways of doing things, and each chef can choose to do things one way or another -- or a wonderful combination of a lot of different methods. And this experience validates the philosophy I had when I embarked on this trip: You're never too old to learn.

Stop by Panzano to see what Elise Wiggins has learned.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun