PANZANO IN CHIANTI, Italy — To Tuscans, the 'Fiorentina' T-bone steak native to this region of Italy is a source of local pride as precious as Dante's "Divine Comedy," the epic literary work.

So with an anti-mad cow ban on certain types of beef going into effect at midnight, people here were in mourning Saturday over the marbled 1 1/2-inch steak. 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.

As restaurants across Italy marked the ban with "last dinners" featuring the 'Fiorentina' 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.

"The 'Fiorentina' steak dies today," said butcher Dario Cecchini, whose family has run a meat shop in town for some 200 years. He was marking the day by running the grieving ceremony, offering glasses of Chianti for "mourners" and auctioning off 200 steaks.

"I'm here to add my own emotions," said Marco Franco, 30, from the nearby town of Prato. He said he would eat his steak with a bone-shaped piece of wood for effect.

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 — the scientific name for mad cow disease — in a native cow in January, and several more cases have surfaced since. Many scientists say BSE can be transmitted to people who eat meat from infected animals. Italy so far has reported no human cases.

The EU ban includes the 'Fiorentina,' a T-bone cut which must come from cattle at least 17 months old. The cut usually weighs up to 2.6 pounds, but some steaks are even bigger, and it is common for two diners in Tuscan restaurants to share one.

People from all over Italy have been rushing to Tuscan butchers to stock up on the 'Fiorentina,' which is Italian for "Florentine" — or things from or associated with Florence. The steak comes from a local breed of cow called Chianina, whose particularly succulent, buttery taste of beef lends itself well to the T-bone cut.

"Costumers would all say: 'You must give it to me, you must give it to me,"' said Vasco Tacconi, the owner of a butcher shop in the Chianti region and the president of Tuscany's butcher association. "We knew it was popular, but we didn't think it had such deep roots."

Some restaurant owners said that they have stored enough beef for a couple of more weeks, since the ban applies only to cows slaughtered starting April 1. Freezing meat for restaurant meals has never really caught on in Italy.

The ban on Fiorentina is expected to be a further blow to the Italian meat industry, already in deep crisis since the mad cow scare caused consumers to shy away from beef.