I don’t know what took me so long to get to Ristorante Il Cipresso in Loro Ciuffenna. It’s one of those places that flies under the radar, not in most guidebooks, but for me, worth a voyage. Superstar butcher Dario Cecchini, my Tuscan brother, took me there for dinner, along with his wife Kim, Nancy Silverton and Michael Krikorian. We had visited the abandoned village of Cavriglia, met the mayor, vice-mayor, various dignitaries, all fans of Dario’s and looking for a creative solution to repopulate their village. They were thinking of artisans, gastronomic and non. Anyone interested in buying and converting a village in Tuscany, not too far from the A1 autostrada? Ask Dario for details. They took us to the Mine Museum, ultra-modern, above the abandoned village, documenting the history of the lignite mines and the life of the miners. When the mines ran out, the village de-populated.
Dario wanted to show Nancy his latest project, on hold due to Italian bureaucratic difficulties, a butcher shop in center of Terranuova Bracciolini. He bought the building, then restored the abandoned ground floor shop, with its marble walls, bronze meat hooks, an elevated counter with butcher block inserts—anyone behind that counter immediately gets respect. There’s also a very large table. I can’t wait for Dario to finalize the project.
After our visit we had dinner at Il Cipresso, a restaurant-hotel in the Pratomagno area south of Florence, the reign of the Cioni family. Tradition rules. Grandfather Luigi was the head of the family, in charge along with his wife Giuliana; they were followed by their son Pietro who, in addition to keeping the restaurant well-supplied, paints, inspired by local artist and mentor Venturino Venturi. Pietro’s works are displayed throughout the restaurant. His sister Maria has taken over the spit-roasting and makes fresh pasta, his son Gabriele is in the kitchen, and cousin Lorenzo is in the dining room and in charge of gelato. Wild mushrooms are a specialty, fresh when in season, dried the rest of the year, used in appetizers, pasta sauce and main course dishes. Farmers bring the restaurant produce which the Cioni happily purchase, transforming the excess into preserves. Their sour cherries, spiced, are paired with cheese, once sweetened they top gelato. Jarred, under-extra-virgin mushrooms taste like forest essence. Meals begin with salumi and chicken liver crostini. Pasta is homemade, simply dressed. On Sundays, a huge spit, threaded with pork, sausage, rabbit interspersed with chunks of bread (the best part, soaked with meat juices) turns in the kitchen and the dining room is frequently packed—they estimate that, beginning with their grandfather, they’ve prepared 50 kilometers of spit-roasts. Steaks are from Dario. There’s an interesting selection of wines although the house wine is wonderful, local, red. Spend a night at the hotel, conveniently between Florence and Rome, and visit the Venturi museum the next day. I’ve been back. You should go.