I was lucky enough to be invited to see the Butteri work at the Azienda Regionale Agricola di Alberese recently.
I’ll admit, very few things get me up before 6am. Scratch that, nothing gets me up before 6am. But the Butteri start early in Alberese, which is a good hour’s drive away from my house and I couldn’t turn down the invitation.
For the longest time the Butteri were the symbol of the Maremma. Our version of cowboys. Just don’t call them that to their face. It’s like comparing prime rib steak to a hamburger. The Butteri are just in a different league.
There’s even a local legend going around that says the Butteri beat famous American cowboy, Buffalo Bill, to a skills test in 1890, but he never paid up his side of the bet.
The Butteri are a dying breed. For centuries they have tended the Maremman cows- the vacche Maremmane. Dressed in their traditional high boots, wide brimmed hat and velvet jacket, they differ from their farmer and shepherd compatriots because they tend their animals in the wild with their traditional mazzarella or hooked wooden rod.
Raising them in their home terrain makes the meat of the vacche Maremmane a true delicacy. The wagyu of the Maremma has a very strong flavour and very little fat for the perfect bistecca fiorentina. The cows themselves follow the white to grey colour palette and have these huge horns, which make them look like water buffalo.
For five hours a day every day, the Butteri are on their horses following the vacche through the Parco Regionale della Maremma. They know each of their cows, take care of their every need and make sure they don’t fall into trouble.
Often these men work alone. Their only company is the Maremman horse they ride. Some of the most prized work horses, the cavallo Maremmano is strong, but sweet and faithful – a truly beautiful beast.
Unfortunately, there isn’t the demand for vacche Maremmane that there used to be. The few Butteri who remain hold strong to tradition and heritage, which brings me to my day with them.
The Azienda Regionale Agricola di Alberese has a number of activities for tourists curious about the Butteri. There are farm tours and tasting sessions, workshops and chances to see the animals up close.
The azienda has its own wines, tomato conserves and olive oils, which are all organic and made on site.
If you’re really fit, have a medical certificate to prove it and good experience around a horse, you can even head out for a morning’s worth of hard yakka helping the Butteri with their work.
While tempting, I turned that one down and settled to watch the Butteri go about their morning work before heading out to meet the animals and try the products the farm produced.
The Butteri have such an incredible and admirable relationship with their horses and cows. Watching them work was like watching a dance. They anticipated every need and move of the animals and cared for them with real affection. I know that sounds rich considering they end up on the dinner plate, but the vacche I saw looked really happy and healthy.
For €25 per adult (€15 for kids), the morning’s trip was definitely worth it. The Italian members in our group were able to ask the Butteri questions about their work and the products were really delicious.
Afterwards, you could pick up some of the products to take home. I was particularly tempted by the meat, which was both Slow Food certified and far cheaper than what you buy in the shops.
It was a short drive to the spectacular Parco Regionale della Maremma and the beach, where I spent the rest of the day relaxing in paradise!
My only advice, is wear closed shoes, boots if you have them. This is a real farm with all the mess and dirt you’d imagine.
The Azienda Regionale Agricola di Alberese is located a short drive from Grosseto in loc. Spergolaia. For more information, check out their official website (Italian only).