Anthony Pedonesi can’t remember a time when he wasn’t curing meats.
"When I was a little kid, we'd hand-grind and hand-stuff the meat on the picnic table in the backyard," says Pedonesi, the co-founder of a new charcuterie company called the Salumeria.
His father learned from his father who learned from his father, who immigrated from Italy to Cleveland in 1904.
"They lived in an immigrant community, and everybody had a trade," Pedonesi says. "There was no formal shop or anything business-related, but he would provide the whole community with cured meat and wine."
His great-grandfather passed those skills onto his grandfather who then passed them onto his dad. "My grandfather was as a day laborer who worked 16 hours a day digging ditches or whatever was asked of him," Pedonesi says. "He lived for those moments when he could make cured meats with my dad."
Anthony continued to make homemade sausages and cured meats into adulthood, and about four years ago he found himself looking forward to Saturday mornings in the kitchen with his own son making cured meats together. "That’s when I knew I wanted to make a living at this," he says.
Around that time, Pedonesi met Gerardo Garcia, who ran a home remodeling business. Garcia was working on Pedonesi’s neighbor’s house, and when Pedonesi had a bathroom that needed reworking, he hired Garcia to do the job.
Garcia didn’t have experience curing meat, but he grew up in McAllen, where his uncle would butcher a whole goat for family gatherings. "I was around butchery when I was growing up, but I didn’t have any formal training," he says.
Pedonesi says he couldn’t believe how meticulous Garcia was with his tools and his attention to detail. Garcia noticed that Pedonesi had a half-opened fridge in his garage that was filled with prosciutto.
Their initial connection as dads with young sons blossomed into a full friendship centered on experimenting with cured meats in the garage with their kids playing nearby. (Their wives also became fast friends.)
It wasn’t long before these two passionate, curious makers combined their skills to create the Salumeria, a new charcuterie business that also includes a pig farm where they raise the animals used to make dozens of varieties of cured meats.
It’s their first food business, but they’ve partnered with one of the most respected ranchers in Central Texas.
When they started working on recipes, they were buying meat from the grocery store butcher counter. After a while, they realized they weren’t getting the proper cuts for the kinds of charcuterie they wanted to make, and that’s when they met Jim Richardson, the noted Rockdale farmer and rancher who sells at several local farmers markets and is a constant presence at the Barton Creek Farmers Market.
Richardson sold to them some of their first whole hogs, and as they learned more about the regenerative agriculture practices he uses, Garcia and Pedonesi asked if they could raise pigs on his land.
"I saw it as an opportunity to bring young people into our food culture," Richardson says. "They’ve got a nice skill set on the manufacturing side, and now they are learning about animal husbandry and animal welfare and nutrition. It’s a great partnership, and it’d be nice if other farmers could have relationships with people like that."
With the help of Richardson’s ranching knowledge, Garcia and Pedonesi developed a vertically integrated business plan that included raising the pigs in Rockdale and building a USDA-inspected curing facility on Fitzhugh Road near Dripping Springs, which opened in April.
The Salumeria was initially supposed to be a wholesale-only business, but with the coronavirus pandemic, the owners decided to sell directly to consumers through an online store and in-person tastings. You also can find their meats at Spread and Co., Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and Three Six General in San Marcos. They have a box subscription option where customers can get a selection of cured meats delivered each month.
Pedonesi says they regularly make about 20 kinds of salumi with another 20 varieties, depending on the season and any requests they get from their clients, but Garcia points out that the variations are endless.
"We can change the coarseness, the casing, the fat content, the other ingredients," he says. Most of the products are made with pork, but they have a few made with duck, lamb, boar, elk and venison that are curing in the 55-degree, humidity-controlled room that acts as a backdrop for their new tasting room.
They make cacciatore, soppressata, calabrese, pancetta, finocchiona, which is made with a white wine, and culatello and fiocco, two whole cuts that typically comprise prosciutto. They also sell felina, a homestyle salami spotted with peppercorns, and bomba, a spicy mix of hand-cut pieces stuffed into a bladder.
A house specialty is the reaper, a thin bright red sausage that tastes like a fiery pepperoni. "One of our dreams is to open a pizza restaurant where each pizza gets its toppings after it’s cooked," Garcia says, which preserves the fat and flavor of the room-temperature meat.
During a recent tasting at their facility, which is next to Revolution Spirits and Last Stand Brewery in a quickly growing section of Hays County, Pedonesi stood at the flywheel meat slicer, shaving paper-thin slices of about a dozen different meats.
He explains that whole muscle cuts take longer to cure than the salami, which can finish in two to four weeks, and why the lonza, or loin, is his go-to pick: "It’s the best way to taste how the animal was raised," he says.
Garcia has a harder time picking a favorite. The only cured meat he remembers eating as a kid was machacado, a dried beef that his mother used to hang alongside the dishcloths. But through his friend who has become almost like his Italian brother, he’s discovered a whole world of salty, fermented charcuterie.
"No, this one’s my favorite," Garcia says each time Pedonesi places a new piece of salume on the black paper in front of him. But he only uses the word "masterpiece" once: when the snow -hite guanciale, the last meat of the tasting, hits the table.
Guanciale is made with the pork jowl, a cut that Garcia takes particular effort to cut carefully each week.
"Every muscle is its own special product in the cured meat world," Pedonesi says. "Every culture has a different way to cut up a pig, and Gerardo has unlocked the traditional Italian way to do it, with very little waste."
Forgoing saws and other mechanized butchery tools, Garcia uses a single 7-inch knife to cut apart each of the pigs.
He’s adept at the skill now, but he fondly remembers the first pig they ordered from Richardson, which he broke down on Pedonesi’s kitchen table. He wasn’t nervous — "we’ve never had a fear of failure," Garcia says — and both families, including all four of their kids, were there.
"We cut off the legs and gave each of our boys a box of salt," Garcia says. "They had their little hands rubbing salt all over."
Pedonesi: "My grandfather would have been really proud."
To find out more about the Salumeria’s products and events, sign up for the subscription box or set up a tasting, go to thesalumeria.com.