Il Mondo Vecchio's Mark DeNittis on fat sausages, scrawny chicken feet and breasts
Il Mondo Vecchio
1174 South Cherokee Street
I dig this job, and I'm having a blast," says Mark DeNittis, knocking back another swig from a bottle of Peroni, his beer of choice. In front of him is a plate of salumi, pulled from the meats he handcrafts and dry-cures at Il Mondo Vecchio, his pristinely clean Denver salumeria and Colorado's only USDA-inspected facility. DeNittis, who runs the production facility with fellow salumi geeks Adam Sacks and Gennaro DeSantis, is giddy about all of the meats, which swing from wire racks in a temperature-controlled back room. "I don't discount my roots or where I am from," says the former chef and current instructor at Johnson & Wales University, "but this is far better than any job I've ever had, and watching this place grow into a sustainable, multi-faceted global food manufacturing company has been incredibly rewarding."
The Massachusetts-born, first-generation Italian-American, who began teaching at Johnson & Wales in 2000 and opened the Il Mondo Vecchio plant last year, comes from a family of salumi addicts. "I grew up on the stuff -- that's what we ate in my neighborhood -- and a lot of the recipes for my salumi are family recipes," he says. Three years into teaching at JWU, DeNittis began sharing that obsession with his students, introducing the "hungry and passionate individuals seeking culinary excellence" to the process of dry-curing. But he was later asked to kill the class because it wasn't part of the university's standard curriculum -- and that's how the underground "meat club" came to fruition.
"We couldn't do it at the university any longer, so some of the students started a meat club, and with a little bit of coaching, we started curing our own meats and playing with our food," confides DeNittis. Not long after, DeNittis began producing peppered veal bacon and duck breast prosciutto, which eventually inspired him to open the plant. "We were outsourcing the veal and bacon, but it was cost-prohibitive," he explains, "and we realized that no one else was producing what we were, so we opened the space and starting making salumi."
Remarkable, flavor-bombed salumi that includes the best pepperoni you've ever had. "It's good, isn't it," deadpans DeNittis, as he takes another bite before returning to reminiscing about his upbringing, recalling the night he cooked for a former president and clucking at the mere thought of eating chicken feet.