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Steakcraft: A Visit to Florence Butchers, NYC

Florence Meat Market was opened on March 6, 1936 by the legendary butcher Jack Ubaldi. Ubaldi was a naturalized American citizen who was born in Umbria, Italy and emigrated through Ellis Island in 1917 when he was seven years old. His father was a butcher and Ubaldi worked in his shop from the age of ten. Later on in his career he worked as butcher while also running a small restaurant before opening Florence. The shop remained open until World War II, during which a large sign in the window read, "Closed Until The War is Over."

Ubaldi helped win that war while operating sonar equipment for the US Navy. When he returned home in 1946 he flirted with the notion of using his newly acquired skills in electronics to start a new career, but instead re-opened Florence. He would go on to run the store until 1975 when he sold it to long-time employee Tony Pelligrino, who owned it for twenty years before selling it current owner Benny Pizzuco.

Pizzuco was already an experienced butcher when he came to Florence, having previously owned his own shop in Baldwin Harbor, Long Island. But like everyone else at Florence he started off with the broom and worked his way up, learning every aspect of the business but more importantly the Florence "way of doing things."

Pizzuco still adheres to the standards established by Ubaldi: only prime beef is used, living up to the shop's name; steaks are all dry aged in-house using techniques perfected over the generations; all meat is cut to order. There are long standing relationships with distributors that go back decades. "We only take Prime beef from Aurora, IL cattle" says Pizzuco proudly.

Pizzuco wouldn't let me in his dry aging room. "We have our secrets," he explains, "everyone has their own way of doing things." But he did divulge that he only takes on whole primals—no "boxed meat," which accounts for the vast bulk of sales in the U.S. "When you dry age boxed meat it gets that moldy, sweat sock smell," says Pizzuco. The meat is aged between 28 and 35 days, depending on what he thinks the meat needs. Dry aging is as much an art as science and Pizzuco judges readiness by using his senses rather than a calendar.

Jack Ubaldi is widely credited with inventing the Newport steak, a cut that's still sold at Florence to this day, which was named for its similarity to the Newport cigagrette carton logo. Although Pizzuco is cagey about where exactly it comes from, only acknowledging that is cut from the sirloin, Ubaldi revealed in his cookbook that it is actually from the bottom butt. But even then Florence only uses prime beef and has a very specific way of butchering the cut, which is why copycat versions of the Newport steak aren't the same as Ubaldi's. While the steak is not dry aged, it's about half the price of the porterhouse, strip, and loin steaks at the shop.


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