Funeral of Meat in Italy

In Tuscany, the Fiorentina T-Bone is usually grilled over oak wood and served with nothing but a drizzle of the best local olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.

But, alas, traditions do die, even in this timeless region of Italy.

With an anti-mad cow ban on certain types of beef going into effect at midnight, people in Panzano in Chianti and all over Tuscany gathered to mourn at the funeral of the marbled, 1½-inch steak Fiorentina T-Bone. The prohibition runs through 2001, although it could be extended if fear continues about the brain-wasting disease that has been striking cattle in Europe.

Honor Thy T-Bone

People crammed the streets of Panzano in Chianti to mourn the passing of the steak and a way of life. A three foot slab of raw beef rolled up in a shiny black coffin in the village and a sendoff for the banned beefsteak commenced. Women wore black and cried out mock tears for the thick steak as synonymous with Tuscany as Renaissance masterpieces.

"The Florentine T-bone steak dies today and it is the last day of being able to freely purchase one. In fact, we have written on the tombstone we created for her 'made invalid, prefered to die," said butcher Dario Cecchini, whose family has run a meat shop in town for over 200 years.

As restaurants across Italy marked the ban with "last dinners" featuring the Fiorentina [Florentine] cut, hundreds of steak-lovers followed a marching band and a coffin containing a T-bone in a mock funeral procession in Panzano in Chianti, a village in the heart of Tuscany.

First Steak Sells for $4,600

Cecchini marked the day by running the grieving ceremony, offering glasses of Chianti for "mourners" and auctioning off 200 steaks.

The first steak at the auction weighed more than five pounds and was sold for $4,600 — with the proceeds going to a children's hospital in Florence, Tuscany's capital.

In February, the European Union banned the sale of meat attached to the bone of cattle older than one year in some countries, including Italy, in an effort to prevent mad cow disease from spreading across the continent.

Italy reported its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the scientific name for mad cow disease, in a native cow in January, and several more cases have surfaced since.

ABCNEWS' Liz White contributed to this report.