Mark Sanfilippo was flying high on the Left Coast, working in L.A. for celebrity chef Mario Batali.
But while the St. Louis native was yearning for home, he noticed a striking fact: His fancy California restaurant was shipping in pork twice a week from Missouri. Why? “Because it was the best in the country,” Sanfilippo said.
That fact sealed Sanfilippo’s decision to return to his roots and become a salumiere, a specialty butcher. Starting small, he began curing meat in a converted wine cooler and selling his products at farmers markets in the St. Louis area.
In 2010, he and partner Ben Poremba opened Salume Beddu (salume = cured meat; beddu = beautiful). Virtually overnight, their shop developed a national reputation for its artisanal cured meats.
Working with small farmers, Sanfilippo has developed an appreciation for out-of-the-mainstream pork breeds. These so-called “heritage” breeds generally have a specific makeup and taste profile that suit a particular end product.
“Some are more marbled, some have darker meat,” he said. “Some have larger bellies and are known as bacon pigs. In the old days, one family would graze one type of pig, and another family would graze another.”
“For a small farmer, it’s hard to get that kind of pork to travel. A lot of these farmers don’t have the capacity to put it on dry ice and ship it. But he can put it in a cooler in his truck and drive a couple hours and get it to me.”
“It’s a rich resource,” Sanfilippo said. “And to me, it’s amazing – finding everything you need right at your doorstep. People see these pork chops, and they’re stunned – like, ‘Why don’t they look like that at the grocery store?'”
Though he enjoys experimenting with heritage breeds, the bulk of Sanfilippo’s salume comes from Berkshire pigs. He likes Berkshires for the consistency of their fat-meat ratio and the quality of their fat. Hard, clean and white, it lends itself well to salami making.
But cured-meat aficionados might also consider sampling some Sanfilippo creations from other heritage breeds:
- Duroc: “That’s a very interesting one – I like it a lot for fresh sausage. It has a really rich flavor, almost beef-like.”
- Red Wattle: “I like that for pancetta.”
- Mongolizza: “That’s a lard-type pig. I’ve messed around with that and made some really nice prosciutto.”
Sanfilippo loves being part of something real, something earthy and fundamental.
“It feels like a swing back to something,” he says. “It’s not something new, it’s something very old. Like [artisanal] bread, and beer, and apples, and cheese, it’s about getting back to the roots of it. And getting people more excited by uniqueness and something special – like maybe I can’t get this everywhere, and that’s a good thing.
“It’s about teaching ourselves to cook and doing things our grandparents did.”
If you’re anywhere near St. Louis, a stop at the Salume Beddu shop is definitely in order. And everyone else can shop online. They’ll ship their delectable products nationwide.
- Salume Beddu
- 3467 Hampton Ave.
St Louis, MO 63139