Culture Cuts

26 Aug 2013

I was looking for the label that read “occhio sporgente.” I couldn’t find it. Knowing it was probably just my horrible Italian translation skills, I still tried to find the “rib eye” cut among the many slabs of beef laid before us at Elisa Estate Farm in the Italian province of Reggio Emilia. Instead I found the lombata (loin) con filleto (filet) cut next to the sottospalla (chuck), which were nearby the noce (walnut) and scamone (chump) cuts. And, clearly, my Italian was worse than I thought if I was looking at “walnut” and “chump” cuts, and still couldn’t find a simple rib eye. My international master program class from the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) was visiting Emilia-Romagna this past February to learn about the region’s food culture and production. We were learning that Emilian meat is just as important as the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale that the region is famous for. Finally I asked Chef Gianni Brancatelli, our host and instructor for the session, where the rib eye was. He smiled, pointed to the lombata con filleto cut, and said, “Half of it is in here.” He explained that in Italy the rib eye cut doesn’t exist—just like the noce cut doesn’t appear in my home country of Canada—but is instead just a small part of the bottom sirloin. Chef Brancatelli further explained that the filet, one of the most expensive cuts in Europe and North America and prized for its tenderness, is exported in South America, where the tastier diaphragm is preferred for their recipes; it’s all a matter of taste. It seems logical: different food cultures developing their own recipes would of course cut up the beef in different ways and prize different cuts. But for me—someone who has grown up in an area dominated by beef production—this was eye opening. Never before had I thought about not being able to eat a rib eye steak, or that there isn’t some sort of international standardization in meat exports. Instead, I learned that the lombata con filleto is perfect to make a steak tartare, and that the girello is great to make a carpaccio, or even a vitello tonnato (a typical Piedmontese dish that I have come to love). Chef Brancatelli’s meat seminar taught me that, even in a simple cut of meat, food tells a rich story. This has been my greatest takeaway from my time at the UNISG, a place that has exposed me to so many new cultures and points of view. I’ve met with farmers, food policy makers, chefs, and food writers—not to mention classmates representing 17 different countries—and have discussed the various food production systems and how they have an impact on all of us in different, yet similar ways. I may not have found the occhio sporgente in Reggio Emilia, but I’ve found so much more. The UNISG offers four Master programs in Food Culture and Communications, with a rich program of study trips in Italy and around Europe. Applications are now open for 2014. Find out more at Image: Pearson Scott Foresman (wikicommons)

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