By Larry Floersch
The founder of the Vermont Salumi Company, Peter Roscini Colman, is no stranger to the food and traditions of Italy. He was born in the town of Assisi in the province of Umbria and has been visiting his father’s side of his family in Italy since his teens.
Colman is also no stranger to the principles of organic farming and caring for the land. He grew up on the Cate Farm in Plainfield, which has been a pioneer in the organic farming movement in Vermont for more than 35 years.
So it is no wonder his interests focused on a way to join together the values and appreciation of the great-tasting and healthy foods of his two homes. He started Vermont Salumi in 2011 with the mission of producing all-natural meat products rooted in the Italian salumificio process, using traditional methods, simple ingredients, and craftsmanship.
The word “salumi” is not a misspelling of the word “salami.” It is the Italian term for what the French would call “charcuterie” and the English would call “cured meats.” A place where salami is made is called a salumificio.
When he was four, he and his mom, Sally, moved back to the U.S. from Assisi. “I used to sing ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ with an Italian accent,” said Colman. Eventually he and his mom ended up at the Cate Farm when Sally Colman married Richard Wiswall.
At the age of 13, Colman began visiting his father’s family in Umbria during the summers, and there he would consume what became one of his favorite treats, paper-thin slices of the salted and dried ham of Italy known as prosciutto.
As he was growing up, Colman also liked “doing things,” whatever that might be, so the notion of craftsmanship appealed to him. “One day I told my family in Umbria that I would like to learn to make prosciutto,” he said. “Prosciutto was something that was very expensive and hard to get in Vermont, and I sort of figured it would be something I could do on the side.”
Colman’s Italian great uncle introduced him to a butcher named Pepe Giostrelli, who offered to teach him the craft when he returned the next summer. The next year and for several more after that Colman worked with Giostrelli in his shop and also with Pepe’s brother, who did small scale on-farm slaughtering.
“I had one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments, said Colman. “I suddenly felt connected to it, and I became passionate about it. And even though the slaughtering process had been very challenging and eye-opening for me, I came home, bought three piglets, raised them, slaughtered them myself, and processed all the meat.”
The results were just OK he said, but as he gained more experience, both on his own in Vermont and working in meat processing in Italy, friends who tried his products began to encourage him to go into business. He also looked at what was happening in the cheese industry at the time, with the exploding artisanal movement, and thought maybe there was a business in artisanal cured meats.
As happens with many entrepreneurial ventures, Vermont Salumi started small, in a 16 x 19-foot room attached to Colman’s apartment. After he got his introductory meat retail license from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, he began selling his fresh sausages at farmers markets. Then, as he underwent the state and U.S.D.A. inspection processes, he expanded to restaurants and retail markets in Vermont, such as Hunger Mountain Co-op, and then out of state. You can now find Vermont Salumi products in supermarkets like Hannaford as well.
When Robin Morris of the Mad River Food Hub in Waitsfield heard Colman was interested in producing dry-cured meats, he encouraged him by offering to build a space for that processing. “We were the first company in the state with a plan to make traditionally fermented and aged salami,” said Colman.
Colman began by sourcing his pork only from Vermont but now goes out of state, too. “We only use high-quality pork and work with farms that raise their pigs in ways that meet our standards, such as no antibiotics in the feed, a vegetarian diet, space to move around, and access to the outdoors,” he said.
Vermont Salumi currently offers five varieties of fresh sausage—red wine and garlic, traditional Italian with fennel and a touch of red pepper, rosemary with red wine, Mexican-style fresh chorizo, and maple breakfast sausage—and three varieties of dried cured salami—fennel, red wine and garlic, and pimenton, which is a Spanish-style dried and cured chorizo with sweet and smoked paprikas and red pepper. You can also get traditional ham, called prosciutto cotto in Italian, which is brined with maple syrup and smoked in a smokehouse.
As far as the move to Barre, Colman said that they have been using the facilities at the Mad River Food Hub for about five years, but they’ve outgrown the space. The space in Barre in the old Homer Fitts location will allow them to expand and try some new things. He also hopes to add a retail presence on Main Street, perhaps by the end of the year, but for now it’s all about the processing.
“We’d like to make some larger format salamis, not just the small retail ones we make now. And we hope to get into traditional Italian products from specific parts of the pig, such as guanciale from the jowls, cappacola from the Boston butt, loma or lonzino from the loin, and pancetta from the belly.”
Fans of prosciutto, however, will have to wait. Although Colman has made it for himself and will continue to do so, he says it is something they are not yet ready to pursue on a commercial scale.
“It takes a year or more to make prosciutto,” he said, “To be viable at the commercial level, you need to buy a lot of whole hams, and you need a lot of space in which to age them. From a small business perspective, you are tying up a lot of money, which is not good for cash flow. But someday, perhaps.”
For more information, visit vermontsalumi.com.