Lucky Rudy

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Lucky Rudy.JPG

Siena Province, Tuscany--Chianina, the giant, long-legged white cattle indigenous to Tuscany since Etruscan days, are an untamed race. And decidedly matriarchal. So much so that Rudy, the seven-year-old bull purchased (for $10,000) to service the herd owned by Bartolo Conte, couldn't perform for six months.

Things are better now. Rudy's 30 wives give birth to 30 calves a year. Ten are sold young, ten are raised for 18 months, until they reach a weight of 800 kilos or so and then butchered (sales price, $3,500 per head), the remaining ten are butchered and packaged for sale here on the farm (by Bartolo and his German-born wife, Wiebke Buchholz). One animal produces 300 kilos of "good" meat, wrapped and sold for roughly $7 a pound. Sounds very expensive, true. But these are Chianina, the finest of the finest, a beast that's all muscle, whose bistecca Fiorentina is the costliest item on restaurant menus in Italy. And they're costly to raise: one hectare (2.5 acres) to graze one animal, plus another two acres per head to raise enough winter feed and silage.Then the government, concerned about mad cow disease, steps in to demand proof that the meal in the troughs doesn't consist of ground up sheep (or whatever), and it's not easy.

Wiebke, whom everyone calls Vicki, runs the hospitality side of the family business, an agriturismo (farmhouse B&B) near Siena called Casanova. "My husband is an idealist," she says, " but farmers like him will make the difference." Her upper-middle class parents were surprised when she opted to marry a farmer, of all things, "but it's a beautiful life."

Rudy would agree.

Note: Our brief excursion in Tuscany was sponsored by the Siena chapter of Terranostra, a national association of agriturismo operators.

Wiebke &  Bartolo.JPGFour wives.JPG

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How's the jet lag, bud? Welcome home.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on October 24, 2010 11:00 PM.

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