Antonio Costantini: From Farm to Plate
Antonio Costantini, or “Little Tony,” isn’t little. His massive hands toss chunks of raw pork with ease. He flops pig parts onto a table to prepare for the grinder and sprinkles the pork with salt and pepper. Seasoning sausage with only salt and pepper is key, he says.
“Those who know how to eat well know where to come,” says Antonio, who opened the butcher shop in Acqualagna, Italy 14 years ago.
An elderly woman walks into Antonio’s butcher shop and doesn’t hesitate: she heads straight to him and says she needs a tender piece of meat for a special dinner that night. Talk to Antonio about most subjects, and it’s hard to get a straight answer. He constantly cracks jokes under his breath. Talk about meat, and he gets serious.
“When you have a carcass in front of you, you have to know what to do – otherwise, you ruin it,” Antonio says, cutting the woman a slab of bottle-fed veal.
The butcher shop is relatively new – this is a region where the Romans built a nearby bridge in 1 A. D., but Antonio has raised and hunted animals since he was a boy. Opening the butcher shop was a choice – working with animals is a way of life.
Antonio knows the quality of the meat he butchers is top-notch because he raised it all himself. His family has worked a sprawling farm on the hills between Cagli and Acqualagna since the 1800s. His family farm is currently home to 130 lambs and sheep, 100 pigs, 80 cows, and five horses. Horse or cavallo is commonly served in restaurants in the Marche region of Italy and is a staple of every good butcher shop.
Antonio’s shop is known as one of the best in the area. There are two other butcher shops in Acqualagna and four in nearby Cagli, Antonio says, but his shop is the only one where the animals are raised by the butcher.
Single with no children of his own, Antonio lives on the family farm with nine family members. Antonio’s nephew Omar and Omar’s wife, Donatella, work in the butcher shop. Other family members work on the farm or have jobs in the area. The 30-something couple is atypical. Antonio worries that government red tape and taxes are driving the next generation out of farming.
“Bureaucracy went up, and the sale went down,” Antonio says. “There’s no more incentive. There’s no money in it. Between the work and what you gain, the margins are so thin, you barely make expenses.”
When Antonio was a child, working on the farm wasn’t an option – it was a requirement.
“My parents gave me food to eat, and I’m grateful,” Antonio says. “But there were no choices.”