An open letter to Mark DeNittis: Why is Il Mondo Vecchio closing?

Categories: Cafe Society

2) Starter Cultures

On your site, you also mention that there is no use of starter cultures. How do you ensure the proper drop in pH to achieve the necessary decrease in water activity that is required to halt the growth of pathogens? Do you measure pH to ensure a Log7 (99.99999%) reduction of fecal coliform? Everything I've read dictates that a starter culture is crucial to the prevention of unwanted bacteria, as well as to break down any nitrates present into nitric oxide. Without the use of cultures, it's been my experience that there is significant wasted product due to lack of consistency in the end product. Furthermore, in European traditions, there is often a practice employed that when good cultures are discovered, they are scraped from the finished product and inoculated in pieces of wood and/or cloth to ensure that they consistently present during the drying process. So is your object to only to purchased starter cultures" or do you also oppose starter cultures made by traditional "Old World" methods?

"Il Mondo Vecchio essentially hit an impasse. They could either change their methods to a process that has been validated by the USDA such as fermenting (cooking the product) or adding nitrites, nitrates, acids or copious amounts of salt, all resulting in what IMV believes to be an inferior product or stop production."

In the above quote from the press release, you say that fermentation is the equivalent of "cooking the product ", which is entirely not true. Fermenting is done at temperatures between 66 - 75 degrees and a humidity of approximately 90%. The process does not produce enough heat to raise the temp enough to cook or kill bacteria. The process of fermentation is simply the production of lactic acid within the meat to produce the desired acidity and sourness by increasing the amount of lactic acid producing bacteria.

3) USDA Challenges

"One option the USDA did make available to Il Mondo Vecchio, DeNittis tells me, was to pay $7,000 to conduct a "challenge study"--essentially a test that would prove the USDA wrong. But even that might not be enough for the agency.

"You can do the challenge study," DeNittis says the agency told him, "but we may not accept the results."

In the articles and mass emails sent, you state that USDA challenges were costly and time-consuming and thus weren't something you were going to pursue. You list a figure of $7,000 as the cost. While this is not a small sum for most folks, as a producer with three years of business at stake and presumably millions of dollars invested, it seems a small sum to pay. I would think at least a single attempt would be made to protect your methods, product integrity and your business. There have been quite a few challenges that have been accepted, one more notably being Salumeria Biellese in NYC, which submitted their challenge to the USDA and won (They don't use nitrates either, so it is not impossible to win). I struggle to understand not even a single attempt on your part, especially with as detailed a records you reference in the articles, as well as confidence in your methods.

" In a recent audit of their procedures, the USDA required Il Mondo Vecchio to provide a scientific study or additional support documentation to further prove the validity of their procedures or change their procedures to fit a standard USDA production method. Because Il Mondo Vecchio was essentially producing salumi in a manner that no one had previously successfully validated under the USDA and because the USDA is not set up for artisanal producers, the USDA regulators put the burden on Il Mondo Vecchio to prove the procedures were in compliance. "

As I understand the law, there are opportunities to change the level of nitrates and/or salt to be used for dry curing from the defaults provided by the USDA. The USDA does however require you to provide adequate proof that your process would achieve Log7 (99.99999%) reduction of coliform bacteria. If you can't prove this with your methods, it opens up the questions:

Are the methods in place in fact adequate and safe?
Why not use nitrates until you can prove your methods through the challenge submission?

With precedents in place, and a clearly loyal customer base, why not challenge? Again, faith and evidence in the safety of the process has clearly been demonstrated in previous cases. (

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I get that Mr. Spinillo has questions. I really do. But to call Chef DeNittis out in such an ugly and public way is just shameful.


Why are you trying to pick a fight, Christian? What personal beef could you possibly have against Mark? Yes, I said personal, because that's how this reads, in my opinion. It's like the closing of IMV is a slight against you personally, and you want everyone to know how much your feelings are getting hurt.


While most of the people that I know are content to shake Mark's hand and express their sadness at IMV's closing, you seem to want to imply that there is something sinister afoot; the great salumi conspiracy of 2012. At the end of the day, this is about a man and his partners making the incredibly difficult decision to close a business that they've spent three plus years sinking their heart and soul into. Blubbering on about the definition of "old world" doesn't change that.


Christian, you seem to have all your pretty little ducks in a row when it comes to knowing how much of whatever chemical the all-knowing USDA recommends or requires in produced foods, and sure, Mark could bend and start dumping a bunch of that crap into his food. I for one am proud of him for not doing so. It's not about producing "A" product. It's about producing "HIS" product, which for three years he has done safely with no (that's zero) violations from the USDA.


Do you think it was easy for the man to decide to close his business? You seem to want to imply that the second the USDA applied any pressure, the IMV guys threw their hands up like petulant children and walked away from their business. I submit to you, sir, that you are not privy to the process by which they came to such a difficult decision. It is being spelled out in the media as IMV VS. the USDA because that's the crux. That's where it started. There are a whole two months of trial, error, option weighing and decision making in there that you don't have all the details about.


Like I said before, I'm positive that your "open letter" to Mark DeNittis, in which you call for "transparency" and beg for answers, is a symptom of some larger beef you feel you have. Is it professional jealousy? Seriously. It's obvious from some of the comments about your letter that have shown up on your girlfriend's facebook page that you guys don't really grasp what IMV was about, and you have no idea who Mark is, or who his clientele is. Which am I, by the way? Hippie or hipster? Is this how you guys really talk about IMV behind closed doors? How about some transparency here, Christian?


I am not really sure why Westword decided to carry this almost manically detailed letter from someone not even in the business professionally regarding IMV’s closing. No one at IMV one owes Christian Spinillo (or anyone, for that matter) a thing, explanation or otherwise. Additionally, I don’t know how smart it is to want to go into this business area by picking a fight publicly with a highly respected chef, butcher, and teacher. There are better ways to ask for answers than in this antagonistic manner.


A well written and fact enticing letter. As much as IMV has been in the media and blamed the USDA on their demise it is clarifying to hear the truth about each point. As only 9 out of 10 small businesses close in the first year IMV should be happy about their time but honest about the true reasons. Jon s has said what everyone is talking about and Christian is right Coloradans are a Savy and smart bunch and its embarrassing mark denittis tried to bs us. Embarrassing for him.


An interesting letter for sure, and I frankly learned a lot about cured meat just reading it.


But beyond the processing questions, I still have questions about the circumstances surrounding the closing of Il Mondo Vecchio. Does anyone else find it oddly coincidental that a mere 5 weeks after DeNittis ended involvement in Cinque Soldi, IMV announced that is was closing? Especially considering that the owners of both ventures were all family. As Mr. Spinillo points out, $7000 is a minimal amount to spend towards an attempt to save a multi-year investment. I can't believe that anyone truly wanting to keep a business open would not make the attempt.


The question raised in my mind isn't really around the quality of the process. I wonder if other personal or business issues are the real cause of IMV's closing, and the USDA just happened to make for a face-saving alibi for the involved parties.


 @hooligan1 I'll gladly take the criticism of me being crazy along side the reference to you finding my girlfriend on facebook, that's pretty interesting and seems to be a big stone to throw in the glass house of yours.


Also, westword's decision to push this out made it public, I simply used the medium that I have created on my behalf to address something publicly with a lot of questions.  The same way you just did here...


In Mark's interviews and press release he hoped that his closing would encourage discourse and questions around the USDA and it's impact on small producers, and that's exactly what I did. I don't claim to know mark and never have, again, clearly stated in the letter.  I also have spoken openly here, not behind closed doors, why else would I write a thoughtful letter as I did?


I'll state it again incase it got lost in the lengthy letter, my issue is with the missing information.  Mark doesn't owe me or anyone else an explanation, that's his right.  It doesn't change the fact that I have a ton of questions as someone who has followed closely what Mark has been able to do, as well as his rise through the Denver/Boulder scene.  This entire area is full of blow-hard foodies, which are often missing most, if not all, of the information regarding their food.  As they speak out for local while eating their imported avocados, blast the GMO topic while sipping on their Whiskey and Vodka made from GMO corn and hate nitrates while chomping on their spinach.  


I have questions, I asked those questions and you and everyone else can choose to ignore them, answer them or any combination of the two.  My name is in the article by the way, I'd love to know yours and encourage you to email me with more discussion. ...


Did either the writer of this 4 page letter (eatthepig), Jon_S or FoodFox bother to go in to IMV on any of their loading dock days and talk with Mark DeNittis? I'm going to suppose that didn't happen. Had it, you would have, like I did, see the man as he closed the plant he literally built with his bare hands. Now, I'm no weekend sausage maker or a fox that is terrible with punctuation, but the look on the man's face when I said thank you and shook his hand showed me all I will ever need to know about his character, his intentions and his love for what he does. The hug I got from Jenna sealed the deal. These are good people doing a hard thing. Leave it alone.


The city of Denver, regardless of your Open Letter and myriad questions, lost a great contributor to our food scene. The students he has taught, the consumers he has reached, the passion with which he throws himself into his work....that is the fabric of what makes the food industry a vital part of our national identity. Mark personifies what it means to love what you do. To question that is to never have met him.


So write what you want, but in my opinion, he doesn't owe you any explanation. However, knowing Mark, he will take the time to get back to you with a thoughtful and engaged response. Because that's the kind of guy he is.

Mantonat topcommenter

 @Jon_S Yes, I think it's definitely a vast sausage conspiracy. Strange things are afoot.


Honestly, I think the guy who wrote the letter is putting a little too much brain power into "getting to the bottom of this." The one thing he fails to mention in any of his questioning is that all of IMV's options for meeting the USDA's updated requirements involve actually changing the flavor of the product. Sodium nitrite, even in the very small quantities needed to be effective as an anti-bacterial, changes the flavor and appearance of the product. It doesn't need to be about fear of a chemical or questions of the dangers of using it; it just tastes different. And that's OK for some consumers and some producers. Acidulation to lower ph also affects the flavor, as does increase in salt. 


In the end, the margins are probably incredibly tight on a small-batch specialty product like this. It's probably not as easy to sell because the palates of store and restaurant buyers have been trained to like more commercial products, so they may not get that the dry sausages are firmer than they are used to or don't beat you over the head with salt. They may balk at the price. I don't know why $7000 seems like a trivial amount to some, but to a young specialty business like this, it can be a huge amount of money. And I got the distinct impression that this wasn't going to be a one-time expense but rather an ongoing expense for each new batch.





I believe I read that you worked for Mark at Il Mondo on the previous thread.  So kudos to doing the butchering thing.  Sodium nitrate -can- but does not always change the flavor.  It depends on so many factors and I've done tests in which people couldn't detect.  


100% agree on salt and acidulation, however, the reference was to the reluctance as if it were bad or against old world methods.  That is, along with the use of nitrates, 100% false as a broad statement for old world methods. It's just not black and white, the beauty of the craft is the opportunity for interpretation.  That openness also prevents from a single method being "right" or "wrong".  It's the purpose for me sticking to science over the opinions of a lot.


As for the $7,000 point, no need to really beat this drum here, Mark is planning a response and will address it.  I do agree that it's not nominal for most, but the process of making a USDA approved product isn't either and it's a to be expected cost.  Also note that I have several folks that I know of who did a challenge without that price tag.


In any event, this is a fun discourse and one that I know Mark is excited to continue discussion around.  His passion in undeniable 

Mantonat topcommenter

@eatthepig no, I never worked at IMV and I am not a butcher. Just a fan of good food. Expected costs of doing business are just that: expected. If the rules change it can deeply effect your monthly budget.

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