It’s no surprise that Oliviero Colmignoli got into making salami and other cured meats. He is the fourth generation in a family of famous Italian salumi makers — great-grandson of Cesare Fiorucci, who founded Norcineria Fiorucci in Umbria, in 1850.
What is surprising is the latest addition to the line of artisan salami that Colmignoli (Col-meen-YO-li) produces at Olli Salumeria, his small company near Richmond, Va., using pasture-raised pork and other carefully sourced ingredients.
It’s pepperoni. Yes, American-style pepperoni, the classic American pizza topper that doesn’t actually exist in Italy.
The word ‘pepperoni’ is a corruption of the Italian words peperoni, which means bell peppers, and peperoncini, which is the Italian word for hot peppers. Pepperoni is generally more finely ground than Italian salami. It has a smoky, spicy flavor that mimics those of salami from southern Italy, but is generally considered inferior in quality. Colmignoli aims to elevate it.
“I guess you could say it’s high-end pepperoni,” Colmignoli says. “It’s good pepperoni to put on good pizza and with all the artisan pizza restaurants, we thought, why not?”
“We are an American company,” he adds. And, in fact, Olli Salumi’s tag line is, “slow-cured in Virginia.”
Twisting on tradition has been part of Olli’s philosophy since Colmignoli and his business partner Charles “Chip” Vosmik, a local investor, launched the company in 2010. Colmignoli had been working at Fiorucci USA, the American arm of his family’s salumeria, in Colonial Heights, Va. He decided to branch out on his own after the company was sold to a private equity firm.
“I saw a need for high-quality products,” Colmignoli says. He was encouraged, he says, by the success of a handful of artisan salumi producers that had sprung up across the U.S., including La Quercia, in Norwalk, Iowa; Creminelli, in Salt Lake City; Boccalone, in San Francisco; and Salumi, in Seattle (owned by the father of celebrity chef Mario Batali).
Although Olli started out making prosciutto, it is the company’s line of salami that has become its bread and butter. In the three years since it opened, it has gone from processing 4,000 pounds of meat per week to 20,000, and salami accounts for 80 percent of its sales. (Most of the prosciutto and other whole cuts are sold to restaurants, though they sometimes can be found at specialty retailers.)
To make the salami, Colmignoli starts with pork shoulder from several heritage-breed farmers. The meat is ground and mixed with blended spices, and a starter culture is added to promote fermentation. The mixture is stuffed into cases and then cured for five weeks in temperature-controlled drying rooms imported from Parma, Italy.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Olli’s salami is the casing. Instead of the usual natural beef casings, Olli uses hukki, a German-made collagen-coated mesh that Colmignoli says improves the fermentation and drying process and also is easier to peel. The cured sausages are then packaged in impermeable paper that prevents oxidization.
The line of salami started out with classic flavors, named for the cities or regions in Italy that inspired them: Norcino (mild); Napoli (smoked and spiked with wine); Calabrese (spicy); Molisana (pepper and garlic). Two more Italian varieties followed — Toscano (spiked with fennel pollen) and wild boar (made with Texas farm-raised boar).
Then came chorizo, the classic Spanish dry-cured sausage liberally seasoned with pimentón (smoked paprika). And, most recently, the pepperoni, which they take as seriously as all the other salami. (A truffle-spiked salami also is in the works.)
“It took or six or seven tries to get it right,” Colmignoli says of the pepperoni. The company is looking for ways to market it beyond restaurants, and is considering packaging it pre-sliced to appeal to home cooks. “We want to be able to give high-end quality to as many people as possible.”
Whether Olli continues to venture beyond traditional Italian salumi remains to be seen. But we did spy a clue while touring the facility a couple of weeks ago: a side of bacon curing in one of the drying rooms. “An experiment,” Colmignoli says. “We’ll see.”