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T-bone or Fiorentina Steak?

Carpaccio, simple and aristocratic
Prosecco grape in the grapevine
Prosecco, maybe not everyone knows that…

Are the T-bone and Florentine steak (bistecca alla fiorentina) the same thing? I must confess that I’ve been wondering about this for a long time.  Although I’m Italian, the first time I tried one of these was a T-bone in 1994 in Washington, D.C., in a restaurant in Georgetown to be specific.  At the time, I had just finished my military service and decided to celebrate with a trip to the US.  Before leaving, a friend told me at least 100 times that I shouldn’t return without having tried a giant, grilled T-bone. Well, you might not believe it, but during my short stay in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, I tried three T-bones, all with very different side dishes, such as huge portions of stewed mushrooms and some extraordinary onion rings.  Years later, on my first visit to Tuscany, in a small local trattoria in the open countryside, a friend ordered two large Florentine steaks. Well, you can imagine my surprise which I realised that I was being served a splendid T-bone. Naturally, I wondered if maybe what I had tried in Washington DC was an American version of the Florentine steak. Were they the same thing or was there some difference between these two delicacies?

I’ve done some research and the meat and the cut are identical.  Sometimes the Florentines can be a little bit smaller, whereas T-bones are always extra-large, at least the ones I’ve seen.  The Florentines, like the T-bones, can be ordered blue, rare, medium rare or well done.  I don’t know about you but I like to order them blue.  In any event, let’s analyse if it’s really the same steak.

The Florentine is a rib from an adult bull cut in a traditional method by Florentine butchers (beccai).  The bulls producing the steak must be between 15 and 18 months of age and of the Chianina breed. Although there are some other extraordinary breeds in Italy, such as the Marchigiana and Romagnola, just to mention the first two which come to my mind and which live side by side with the Chianine in the Apennine mountains of central Italy.  However, if you want an original Florentine, the only breed is Chianina, which takes its name from the Apennine valley where they originate, the Val di Chiana.  What size should this cut have in order to enter within the canons required by tradition?  Bascially, it must be at least 5 centimetres high, or two inches as they would say in America.  The weight follows, according to the size or age of the animal.  In the case of an 18 month old bull, Florentine steaks can easily be more than one kilo in weight, which is more than two pounds for the Americans, although a bull just over 15 months old could produce steaks more appropriate for those who wish something “lighter”. However, in order to be defined as a Florentine steak, the weight must be at least 800 grams.

However, what is the exact cut of a T-bone? It’s exactly the same. The Florentine steak is a T-bone but the T-bone is not necessarily a Florentine. Indeed, it can’t be as there are no Chianina bulls raised in the United States and no regulation indicating that it must be at least 5 cm (or 2 inches as previously mentioned) in width.  Indeed, if we want to be specific, the Americans make two types of steaks from the loin, small ones called T-bones and large ones known as Porterhouse, both of which have the T shaped bone but they come from different places on the bull’s long loin. One final detail, for a Florentine steak to be strictly defined as such, it should be grilled on an open fire made from oak wood…

Andrea Bonomi