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the beef in the bistecca fiorentina

On many menus in Tuscany, 'Chianina' is short for bistecca.

Originally raised in the Valdichiana near Cortona (which gave them their name), as well as in Umbria and Lazio, Chianina are famous as one of the oldest and biggest breeds of cattle, dating back at least 2200 years. Many stand 2 metres high; one specimen in the 1950s named Donetto holds the world record for the heaviest bull in history, weighing in at 1780 kg.

The ancient Romans raised them as draught oxen, and they were used in agriculture in some parts of Italy until well after the Second World War. They were also used by the Romans in sacrifices to the gods.

Today they are mainly raised for meat, although occasionally they will be called up to play their ancient roles in historical events such as the Palio in Siena, when they draw the city's carroccio (medieval-style war cart, bearing an altar and the city's banner) in the Corteo Storico pageant, just before the race.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Image by Janus Kinase