By Gregory Daurer | Mar 01, 2021
Salamis and cured meats
When it comes to prepared meats, Miner's business is riding a gigantic wave. "It seems like charcuterie is the most popular thing on the planet right now, " he says, quipping, "Everyone and their mother has a charcuterie-board business."
Yes, Miner's deli prepares charcuterie boards -- featuring assorted meats, cheeses, pickles, and vegetables -- in addition to sandwiches. But, more notably, it creates its own charcuterie right there on the premises: specialty salamis, duck prosciutto, and wagyu beef bresaola and pastrami. Despite the pandemic raging in 2020, Miner says the retail business "probably doubled in sales last year."
And then there's Il Porcellino's wholesale business. Out of a USDA-inspected facility in Basalt, Colorado, the company makes salamis -- with flavors like spiced juniper, black truffle, and orange pistachio -- in two different sizes: a smaller retail size for grocery store customers as well as larger ones meant to be sliced by delis. Additionally, it makes whole muscle meat products there, like its bresaola, coppa, lomo, and duck prosciutto. Miner says in 2020 "our wholesale business more than quadrupled."
Given how things are trending, Miner compares present-day charcuterie to how artisanal cheesemaking boomed in the 1990s. "I think it's not going to slow down anytime soon," he says. "It might not even have reached its greatest popularity yet."
Working with around 15 different distributors, Il Porcellino's salamis are available in at least 25 states. "We do very well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast," Miner says. "We do very well in the Pacific Northwest, Upper Midwest." In the Rocky Mountain region, the salamis are available at Whole Foods stores -- which also uses Il Porcellino meat products within its pizza program. "We feel like we haven't even come close to hitting what we can really do within this state," says Miner.
Along the way, Miner's products have received Good Food Awards, and his entries have twice won the Charcuterie Masters competition in New York. Not bad for a guy who says, "I'm completely 100 percent self-taught."
When he opened his deli in 2015, Miner -- an experienced chef -- says "there wasn't anybody selling house-made charcuterie in a retail fashion." The shop has subsequently become one of the most beloved delis in Denver.
Then, in the fall of 2017, Miner received an offer: Would he like to take a small, USDA-inspected facility in Basalt over from its previous owner? By 2018, he was in the wholesale business.
For its salami, Il Porcellino (which translates as "the little pig") uses ethically raised pork fed a "non-GMO, non-corn, non-soy, vegetarian diet," according to the company's web site. A combination of pork shoulder and back fat is ground together. Miner says, "When you look at a piece of salami, on the inside, you obviously see circles of fat, and that is the back fat. Fat's delicious -- especially pork fat. And a lot of that flavor comes from the animal and what they've eaten throughout their lives."
The ground mixture then has spices added to it, as well as a lactic acid starter culture and either sugar or dextrose. After it sits overnight in a cooler, the mixture gets vacuum-stuffed into all-natural beef casings the next day.
It's then hand-tied, and moved to a fermentation chamber or room. "The starter culture feeds off those sugars and lowers the pH of the meat," says Miner. "Kind of gives it the tangy flavor you taste in salami. And potentially kills any bad bacteria that might have existed in the meat to begin with."
Correspondingly, a healthy bloom of penicillin mold forms on the outside of the casings. Finally, the salamis are aged in climate-controlled rooms for -- depending on the retail size of them -- either five or eight weeks.
The company has been further building out its Basalt facility. Miner says, "When it's all said and done, we should be able to process and dry 80,000 pounds of salami at once -- which is, honestly, still a tiny business compared with some of these giant charcuterie companies in America."
R&D work is still done at the company's deli in Denver. That's where the company developed, for instance, its Lemongrass Szechuan Peppercorn salami, which incorporates ginger, lemon zest, lemongrass powder, Szechuan peppercorns, and Mirin wine. Miner's been informed by bars that the flavor of the salami "pops" when accompanied by white wine.
The company has also developed a series of smoked sausages incorporating beer from Breckenridge Brewery, which will soon be available in grocery stores across Colorado. The first two of those co-branded sausages will be Avalanche Smoked Cheddar Bratwurst and Vanilla Porter Spiced Bratwurst. Miner says of the deal with Breckenridge Brewery, "Their goal is to help us sell more brats, and we will hopefully help them sell more beer."
As it stands presently, he admits, "We can't even come close to meeting the demand for our products."
It's an enviable predicament to have, and Miner's still absorbing all the rapid-fire changes. "It's a lot to take in -- and I'm just a chef that wanted to make some charcuterie!" he says.
Challenges: "Growth," says Miner. "We're just trying to figure out right now what the next steps are. To build the dream facility is going to cost $15 to $20 million. And where does that money come from?"
The present wholesale location in Basalt, 17 miles northwest of Aspen in the Roaring Fork Valley, has its challenges as well. It's not unknown for a supply shipment to be held up due to the weather. "It's winter up there eight months out of the year. But it's beautiful. It's a special part of Colorado." Miner thinks the altitude -- 6,600 feet above sea level -- adds "terroir" to the flavor of Il Porcellino's salami.
Opportunities: A bigger footprint. "We feel like we could open more retail locations in and around the Front Range -- also potentially in the mountains," says Miner.
Needs: More marketing. More employees. A salesperson, eventually. But most of all, Miner's business needs more money. In order to "continue growing the way we want to, it would be nice to have some more operating capital," he says.