What are the Italian cattle breeds?

What are the Italian cattle breeds?

In Italy there are several native cattle breeds, which can be classified according to various criteria, the most important of which are aptitude and origin. Based on the aptitude, the breeds can be classified into:

  • breeds with simple aptitude: with a functional aptitude prevailing in milk or meat
  • dual purpose breeds: intended for the production of milk and meat
  • triple purpose breeds: intended for the production of milk, meat and used as working animals

However, the best known and commercially used criterion in the classification of Italian cow meat is certainly that of origin. On the basis of this parameter, therefore, which are the main Italian meat breeds?

We can certainly identify seven cattle breeds:

  • Chianina: breed already present at the time of the ancient Etruscans and Romans, it owes its name to the Val di Chiana and is generally considered a native breed of Central Italy (Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria). Its light red, slightly marbled meat is tender with fine fibers. Lean and tasty, Chianina beef, made famous by the Florentine steak, is by far one of the most sought-after and loved meats in the world.
  • Piedmontese Fassona: among the oldest in the world, the Piedmontese bovine breed is one of the first native Italian meats. It has excellent quality meat, healthy, very lean and very tender. It is one of the most important Italian beef cattle breeds, both for its consistency and for its production prospects. Initially considered a dual purpose breed, it was then used over the years for the exclusive production of Italian meat. Its distinctive feature is the so-called “double thigh” or “double rump”: greater muscle growth on the shoulders, rump and thighs.
  • Marchigiana: characterized by a white coat, the Marche cattle breed is bred throughout central Italy, especially in the Marches, Abruzzo, Molise and Campania. It is the third among the Italian cow breeds after the Fassona and the Chianina. Originally it was used to work the fields, when tractors did not yet exist, today the breeding is intended for the use of its meat which has an excellent marbling, a pink color and contains many proteins with low levels of cholesterol.
  • Romagnola: typical of Romagna, it is the fourth most important Italian beef breed by number of heads present in the country. Thanks to an intelligent selection action, it is certainly the type that presents the best aptitude for the production of meat. Of an imposing, massive, collected and harmonious appearance, it has long horns, black at the tip, lyre-shaped in the female, crescent-shaped in the male. Romagnola meat has an intense pink color with a fine marbling that gives it a strong flavour.
  • Podolica: we could define the Podolian breed as the mother of all Italian meats: originally from the European and Asian steppes, in fact, it gave rise through crossbreeding to various working and meat cattle breeds, such as the Maremmana, Chianina, Marche and the Romagna. It is widespread throughout southern Italy, especially in Calabria, Lucania, Puglia and Campania, where it has been farmed for centuries thanks to its remarkable adaptability to even the worst environments. The coat is darker than the male specimens, lighter for the females; equally – as for the Romagna breed to which it indirectly gave rise – the horns, which can reach up to 100 cm, have the classic half-moon shape for males and lyre-shaped for females. Characterized by slow growth times and not very adaptable to intensive farming, the Podolica cow has always been raised in the wild. This is what makes its meat extremely valuable: with a bright red colour, naturally sapid, with a yellowish color of the fat thanks to the presence of carotene and a thick muscular fiber that is tenacious in the bite, the meat of the Podolica cow is rich in mineral salts and linoleic acid.
  • Maremmana: widespread in Tuscany and Lazio, in the Maremma area, it is one of the oldest and most famous Italian cattle breeds in the world. Suitable for breeding in the wild in marginal environments, it has always been raised in the wild: the herds live outdoors all year round, sheltering in the scrub during the winter, grazed by the cowherds riding the Maremma horses. Known for its large horns, it gives rise to a prized Italian meat, very tasty and with an intense red colour, rich in unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids with low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. This typical native breed of central Italy has today become a symbol of biodiversity and protected, since – like the Podolian breed – it is endangered.


These main Italian cattle breeds are joined by others with different or less known aptitudes. Of some of the bovine species described so far, today, the number of heads has drastically reduced due to the difficulty of rearing, the low yield of the single animal or the decrease in the more favorable environments for grazing. For these reasons, there are several companies, including HQF Agricola, which carry out projects for the protection of breeds and sustainable breeding, aimed at ensuring the permanence of the species and the well-being of the animals raised.

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