When we talk about the Val di Chiana, it’s impossible not to mention the Chianina, an ancient autochthonous cattle breed known for its immense size and its pure white coat.
Raised for over two thousand years and mentioned by Virgil, Pliny the Elder, and other Latin authors, the Chianina was primarily used as a working breed, both by the Etruscans and the Romans. Due to its pristine coat, it was also used in triumphal processions and sacred ceremonies.
In the famous bronze group known as the Plowman of Arezzo, created between 430 and 400 BC and now housed in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome, a high-ranking figure or a priest is depicted commanding two oxen, traditionally believed to be Chianina cattle, engaged in plowing. Next to the man, there is a small statue of Athena Ergane, the protector of labor and human ingenuity, according to mythology, the one who invented the plow, yoke, and reins. Scholars attribute a significant symbolic value to this scene. Some see it as representing the primal furrow with which the city was founded, others interpret it as a moral rebirth, while others view it as a wealthy landowner giving thanks for the wealth generated from the cultivated land.
Among cattle breeds, the Chianina is the largest, with males reaching over 190 centimeters in height at the withers, which is the region of the trunk corresponding to the first dorsal vertebrae, and weighing up to 1,700 kg. Females exceed 155 cm at the withers and can weigh up to 1,100 kg. They have short and robust horns, with black tips. The head of the female is more elongated in shape.
Resistant to diseases and ectoparasites, the Chianina is raised both in stables and on pastures, particularly suitable in the Arezzo area, such as those in Casentino and the Apennine territories of Sestino and Badia Tedalda. The Chianina meat is highly prized. The meat of the female intended for slaughter, known as “scottona,” is leaner and more tender. Certification is provided by the IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) of the Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale, which must be displayed in all retail outlets.
From the loin region, the famous “bistecca alla fiorentina” is obtained, the renowned thick-cut steak with the bone. Its flavor depends on the extended aging period, which should not be less than fifteen days, necessary to improve tenderness.
Although the Chianina breed is no longer geographically confined, it remains an essential element in the traditions of many municipalities in the provinces of Arezzo and Siena, particularly those in the Val di Chiana.
Among the well-known festivals in Arezzo that revolve around the meat of the “white giant,” we should mention the Sagra della Bistecca di Cortona, the Sagra della Bistecca di Olmo, the Sagra della Bistecca di Badia al Pino, the Sagra della Bistecca Chianina di Sestino, and the Festa della Tagliata di Agazzi.
Plowman of Arezzo (between 430 and 400 BC), National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, Rome