Exclusive: Il Mondo Vecchio will close at the end of the month, ceasing its salumi and sausage production
If there's anyone in this city who's become synonymous with salumi and sausages, it's Mark DeNittis, the co-founder of Il Mondo Vecchio, a Denver salumeria and production plant that opened in 2009 in a bare-bones industrial building on South Cherokee Street. DeNittis and his partner, Gennaro DeSantis, quickly generated local and national accolades for their fresh sausages and dry-cured artisan salumi products, many of which are sold at local markets and restaurants run by big-name chefs who have uniformly waxed rhapsodic about DeNittis's handiwork.
It was a success story that made headlines: a scruffy, first-generation Italian-American street-smart kid from Massachusetts who came to Denver and opened the state's first -- and only -- USDA-inspected facility producing dry-cured salumi. And his old-world sausages became the talk of Denver; his pepperoni, especially, exalted to transcendent sticks of pig gold that made even skeptics weep with joy.
DeNittis, it seemed, was destined for global salumi domination.
And then, in August of this year, his livelihood became a focal point for the USDA.
"In late August, the USDA came to the plant to discuss our current inventory and how it related to salmonella testing, which is something that we test for anyway -- and have tested for since day one -- and they determined that our production process didn't show proof that the pathogens for salmonella were being properly addressed, that we weren't addressing the steps to kill the pathogens," he explains.
And while he insists that his relationship with the USDA is amicable, even now, he points out that in the three years he's been making salumi, he's never been hit with a violation -- not once. And, he notes, because the products in question are, in fact, dried, the pathogens can't survive.
"We test for pathogens before we ever sell our products, and my records are available for review," he says. "All of our batches are tested by a certified, independent lab, and in the three years of production, there has never been a food-safely violation, issue or complaint. We've always been cleared when it comes to testing."
All of which prompt the question: What the fuck happened? "To our knowledge, we were following regulations and processes, we were making salumi that's fit and wholesome for human consumption, and it was all extensively tested for safety," says DeNittis, adding that the local USDA officials were in agreement with that.
But in August, when his inspector, accompanied by the regional USDA director, dropped in, DeNittis was told that his inventory would be put on retention until further testing could be completed. "They wanted us to do further intensive salmonella testing if we wanted to continue in the same fashion, plus a challenge study that would have included testing for temperature, water levels, listeria, toxins, E. coli -- you name it," says DeNittis. It was either that, he continues, or completely compromise his products. "We had to make a choice to either to do further testing, or add chemical nitrates or nitrites to the products."