Is this your first visit to Hong Kong? "Yes, and it's so different here. I don't live in a big city. Alba [in Piedmont, Italy] is a small town known for its culture and wine. It is a Unesco heritage site. The terroir is famous for white truffles and nebbiolo grapes used to make Barolo and Barbaresco. And only in that area is a kind of meat called fassone from a breed of cattle [native to] Piedmont. It has only been genetically modified by nature. It has only one third of the fat of other cows, making the meat very lean - even [leaner] than chicken. It's different from other meat because of the fat."
What's special about fassone? "When customers eat meat, they usually taste the fat. But fassone meat is very sweet and clean, like tuna. It has a long, lingering taste. Fassone eat grass. During the summer, there isn't enough grass [in the foothills], so for three months, they roam up the mountains and farmers must collect enough grass for the cows to eat during the winter, which can last until March. The meat is tougher, but it's good because you're eating muscle that has been exercised. If it's tender, the muscle hasn't been used.
"Traditionally, fassone are raised on small farms with 20 to 25 animals. Each farmer knows the story of each cow from the beginning of its life to the end. Each has a name, and they are treated well. They don't see the cows as money."
How did you get into the business? "My father started his butchery on Christmas Day, 1975, in the centre of Alba. I worked with him for 14 years, from the age of 20. But six years ago I felt I had to close the shop to improve my career. My passion is restaurants; my customers are restaurants. My mission to promote fassone [through artisan butchery, Macelleria Oberto] started about 10 years ago, because I found when I ate in nice restaurants, they weren't serving quality meat. It's an unknown breed and product. So I was determined to work with farmers to find customers for their meat. I work with 300 to 400 farmers."
What is the best way to eat fassone? "The best way to eat it is raw, in dishes like carpaccio and tartare, using extra-virgin olive oil and high-quality salt. If you cook this meat the wrong way, it will be dry and chewy. You have to sear it on high heat so the protein caramelises on the exterior and it is raw inside. As soon as the outside turns brown, take it off the heat."
Did you always want to become a butcher? "Yes and no. When I started school, my father started the butchery. When I was 20, I never thought I would be here after 10 years."
Did you eat a lot of beef as a child? "Yes. If you want to be healthy you should eat all kinds of protein, just not a lot of it. My father always worked with fassone. Italy has lots of products like this that people [from other countries] don't know about. That's because production is small-scale and most consumers are local."
Growing up, what do you remember most about the business? "When I was about 12 years old, I would go with my father to the [cattle] market every Monday morning during the summer holidays. I had to get up at 4am. These days we don't butcher the animals; another company does it for us."
What do you do to relax? "I like to travel, to make friends in different parts of the world. It's interesting to hear different points of view and build relationships. My big problem is language. If you travel a lot it's an experience and part of your identity.
"I also like sports, especially running. I run alone with music to relax and not think about my job. I don't have a lot of friends, but I have good friends. I like going to restaurants with my family, and I like to cook meat and make risotto."