Landmark: Volpi Foods
Sausage. Salami. Prosciutto. These items you know and maybe love, but have you ever wondered when they started becoming popular in St. Louis? Much of it started with John Volpi, an Italian immigrant who arrived in St. Louis from Milan in 1899. When he got here, he immediately found a community, both in friends he knew from back home and in other Italian expats living in South City, in the area that would later become known as the Hill.
Wanting to find meaningful work that would bring enjoyment to his neighborhood and beyond, Volpi looked to start his own business. “He started doing what he learned to do back in Italy,” explained Lorenza Pasetti, Volpi’s great-niece and the current owner of Volpi Foods. “In Italy, it was not a good economic situation, which is why so many immigrants came here looking for a better life.” Volpi began making sausages in a friend’s basement and selling them to Italian coal miners.
Three years later, he opened a storefront at the corner of Daggett Ave. and Edwards St., where Volpi Foods still resides today. He ran the business alone until the ’30s, when he sent for Pasetti’s father, Armando Pasetti, who came from Italy to St. Louis to be mentored in the family business. Pasetti herself would take over in 2002. “It was about 100 years into the business. It sounds kind of funny to say, doesn’t it?” she said. “I joined in the ’80s and learned it basically from the ground up. I think I had every position in the company, just about.” Since taking over, Pasetti has expanded the business greatly; now, Volpi has three buildings, with a fourth in production in Union. Volpi products are sold around the country, in markets in California, the East Coast, Texas and states in between.
Since the beginning, Volpi’s recipe for success has been simple: Use high-quality meats, practice impeccable technique and be an active part of the community. Volpi’s meat is sourced primarily within a 300-mile radius; most of the hams that are used for prosciutto come from farms just north of Kansas City, as does a lot of the meat for the salami. “Everything we do is made with fresh pork,” Pasetti pointed out. “We’ve done things like introduce some heritage prosciutto, which is a heritage breed from producers in southern Missouri, aged for 18 months.” Some of that meat is processed even further, to become Volpi’s jamon serrano, a Spanish-style prosciutto; elsewhere, pork becomes everything from coppa and wine-infused salami to pepperoni and soppressata. Later this year, Volpi will introduce a beer-infused salami in partnership with Schlafly Beer.
Volpi’s products are available across town, including in its own storefront, where customers can also find freshly made sandwiches – one of the shop’s biggest draws. “We wanted a quality sandwich,” Pasetti said. “They’re not the largest sandwiches in the world, but we think they’re the best.” Her personal favorite is a prosciutto sandwich with warm brie; other available options include a spicy Italian, a poor boy and a bresaola with fontina.
Volpi’s meat has also been used in dishes at AO&Co., Steve’s Hot Dogs, Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. and Pastaria Deli & Wine; in a way, having Volpi’s products in these beloved shops and gathering places is the natural evolution of John Volpi’s quest to bring great food to the people around him. And Pasetti aims to go even further. “Oh, there are so many great restaurants in St. Louis,” she declared. “And we want to work with all of them. Anything that helps the St. Louis community at large is usually a good thing, right?” Her great-uncle would certainly agree.
Volpi Foods, 5256 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.446.7950, volpifoods.com
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