A few weeks ago I had a dream of visiting Italy again, but to the country side to go truffle hunting. Then I attend this tour and listen attentively to Alex Pellini who is the nephew of Chef Antonio Varia who owns and operates Alle-Pia Fine Cured Meats and the local authentic Italian restaurant Buona Tavola in the Paso Robles, California area. In an instant, Alex convinced me to visit Italy again, but to the countryside somewhere north of Tuscany to watch farmers raise pigs fed with acorns.
He then described his upbringing as very a close family and full of cooking. On holidays at his family home, they made salumi and hung them to dry in their cave-like basements. Alex romanticized what I wanted to experience when I return to Italy, which is to not do the touristy things, but to spend time in the countryside to explore, cook, eat, and drink.
The Italian salumi business, Alle-Pia Fine Cured Meats, is named after his grandmother (Alle-Pia) who is also Chef Varia’s mother. The family tradition of making salumi was brought to America and is now a business operation that makes a variety of salumi including prociutto and pancetta. They still use acorn fed pigs, but most of the pork is from Iowa. There are no caves to dry cure the salumi however, instead there are a few refrigerated rooms controlled with sophisticated Italian technology that regulates the temperature and the humidity levels. Unlike wine, the process to make and cure salumi only takes a few short months. The end result is a salumi with a hard exterior and an almost soft center.
To my surprise the seasoning to make salumi is simple. At Alle-Pia, some salumi varieties are also made with a red or a white wine, which gives it another savory dimension. My personal favorite was the truffle salumi and the salumi made with white wine.
Note that a tour of the facility is rare, because it really is a private business that is closed to the public. By chance, my friends and I were quite lucky to have gotten a quick tour of the facility to learn the art of making Italian salumi. Thank you Alex! Grazie mille.
In case you wanted to meet Alex Pellini and sample the various salumis of Alle-Pia Fine Cured Meats, he will be attending the Italian Festival aka La Dolce Vita Festival in Laguna Niguel from October 5th – 6th, 2013. http://www.ladolcevitafestival.com
If you can’t make it to the festival, a few local L.A. shops like Wally’s Wines, The Cheese Store of Silverlake, and The Farmshop sell the Alle-Pia brand. If you still can’t find them at your local shop, contact Alex Pellini at http://www.allepiasalumi.com/