Another place that I've written about in the past - a long time ago - is Volpi Italian Meats in St. Louis. This is a company that is one of the oldest Italian meat companies in the United States. My previous entry over 8 years ago didn't do the place justice and on a recent visit to Volpi's, I picked up some meat and cheese and got some pictures of the place.
Giovanni Volpi was a salumiere in his hometown of Milan, Italy, an Italian meat artisan who dried and cured his own meats to sell to the public. Hearing that the American heartland was a bountiful place for beef and pork, he left Italy in 1900 to travel to the United States. He ended up in St. Louis in the city's growing Italian neighborhood, The Hill. In 1902, "John" Volpi - with partner Gino Pasetti - established his company, the John Volpi Sausage Company, and was making Italian meats with high quality Midwestern raised pork and beef along with using only the finest in spices and seasonings in the meat.
John Volpi ended up marrying Gino Pasetti's sister, Maria, in 1905. A midwife by trade, Maria never worked in the meat processing plant. Volpi and Pasetti continued to make Italian meats and by the mid-1920's, Volpi Sausage Company was nationally known for having some of the best Italian meats in the United States.
In 1938, Volpi's and Pasetti's Italian nephew, Armando Pasetti, was sent to America to learn the old world art of curing meats from his uncle. Pasetti, although only 14 years old and only being able to speak Italian when he started with his uncle, quickly learned the trade and took classes at night to learn English. He eventually took over the company - then known as Volpi Foods - when John Volpi passed away in 1957. Pasetti updated the facilities and improved the process of making the meats, but he never strayed from the family's standards of excellence in making the meats.
By the 1980's, Volpi Foods was selling Italian meats across the nation and internationally. They began to distribute meats to the Schnuck's supermarket chain in the St. Louis area. You can find Volpi meats in supermarkets in many Midwestern cities today.
After getting her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and subsequently getting her MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Pasetti's daughter Lorenza joined the company as an assistant bookkeeper. She eventually began to learn every aspect of the business, from curing and production to distribution and marketing. She became the General Manager of the company and eventually took over the day-to-day operation of the company when her father retired in 2002 at the age of 78.
(Pictured right - Lorenza and Armondo Pasetti)
The retail shop for Volpi is located at the corner of Edwards and Daggett on The Hill. (see map) This is the original building that John Volpi and Gino Pasetti established their retail meat shop that they called "Uno". Over the years, Volpi Foods has added on to the original building and as they continued to grow, they bought other buildings near the retail store to do their curing and production work.
Volpi continues to buy only fresh meat - they only buy from pork and beef producers no more than 350 miles away from St. Louis. They don't like to freeze the meat - but if they have to, they limit the meat to only two days in the freezer. Their meat is ground at a low (above freezing) temperature, then allowed to set for awhile in a cold refrigerator before it is ground again at a low temperature. According to the company, if the meat was ground at a higher temperature, the fat content would "smear" and that would prevent the meat from drying in a proper fashion.
And Volpi is in no hurry to cure their meats. While most companies take two weeks to cure pepperoni, Volpi takes up to 6 weeks to cure their pepperoni by using a cold drying process. Volpi's top seller is their prosciutto and it takes up to nine months of pain-staking drying techniques before it is sold. Today, the company continues to experiment with new types of meats such as wine-flavored salami and international flavors injected into the meats are starting to show up in Volpi's meat cases.
The retail space for Volpi is not large. It's a quaint little shop that features all different types of Italian meats, cheese, pastas and other Italian specialties. Volpi's also has a number of olive oils, sauces and spices on sale, as well.
Their Milano and Genova salami are their two top selling salamis. The Milano has more of a spicy and peppery taste, the Genova is more smooth with a forward flavor of old world spices. I like using the Milano salami when I make my homemade Italian sandwiches. I picked up some of the Milano salami on this particular visit.
I also like to use sandwich-sized pepperoni and spicy capicola on my sandwiches. I made sure to pick up some of both of those meats when I was at Volpi Italian Meats. The Volpi pepperoni has a slightly salty and spicy taste. And while the capicola isn't as spicy as I'd like it to be, Volpi still makes a good capicola.
Rounding out my homemade Italian Sandwich, I like to use provolone. The cheese case at Volpi features dozens of different styles of Italian cheese. I had one of the ladies behind the counter slice up about 10 slices of provolone cheese for me.
Before my visit to Volpi Italian Meats, I stopped off at the Missouri Baking Company (click here to read about Missouri Baking Company) to pick up some of their wonderful sliced Italian bread. They slice it thin enough for sandwiches or for dipping into olive oil. I use thin sliced Italian bread for my Italian sandwiches. (If you're interested in the recipe for my Italian Sandwich, click here.)
While I was there, I took a look in the freezer case and saw that they had Mama Toscano beef ravioli in there. I grabbed a 1 pound box of the ravioli that is made not far from Volpi Italian Meats. My wife doesn't care for ravioli all that much, but I certainly do.
The only thing that I don't care about Volpi's salami is that it doesn't last all that long once it's been opened. I bought a pound of sliced salami and I had to throw out a little less than a half-pound about five days later because it had gotten a pretty foul smell. I'm sure that has to do with their processing of their salami. Fresh out of the package on the first couple of days, it's tough to beat. After that, you're on your own.
Here's a good tip if you're visiting The Hill in St. Louis - take a cooler. Between picking up some of the best tiramisu at the Missouri Baking Company and getting meats and cheese from Volpi Italian Meats, you'll have a full cooler. Volpi Italian Meats continues to have an old world feel to what an old world Italian meat market should be like. Even if you don't like Italian meats - and who doesn't? - it's worth a trip to see a place that is one of the oldest Italian meat markets in America.