La Cultura Salumi
If you are looking to satiate your appetite for some of the best Italian air-dried meats you’ve most likely every eaten, look no further than La Cultura, located in the heart of the Bay of Quinte Region.
Owned and operated by Franco and Jane Abballe, the high-end artisanal meat products, which derive from a number of types of animal and regions of Europe, has been in operation since 2011 selling to high-end restaurants. Three years ago, they opened a retail outlet on their property, where they not only live and sell their tasty products, but where they also create and dry their various meat specialities.
Looking for a retirement business that fit in with their passion for food – particularly Franco’s more than 30 years of experience in learning the craft of creating incredibly memorable and high quality meats from his native Italy, the Abballes eventually moved to their current location at 842 Hamilton Road, just off Loyalist-Wallbridge Road in Quinte West.
“We had a water buffalo farm in Vermont and we were making water buffalo products and we lived there for a few years, after originally living in Toronto. We eventually moved the animals to Quebec and now we have a farm there where the females are milked. A partner there is taking care of the dairy part, and since Franco has always had a passion for meat, he started to think where to build a meat plant to do something with the water buffalo males,” said Jane, who is originally from Ukraine and who has a family history in the meat business, as a great-great grandfather owned a salami plant in Ukraine.
“We started looking around the Toronto areas but we needed to have a specific kind of property. In the areas of Italy where they do this kind of meat, the people making it live and work in the same place, which is very traditional. You need to do this because we use less salt in our process so you always have to watch the meat a few times a day to check to see how the aging is going. But to get the right zoning anywhere in the Toronto area was not so easy. We were looking into King City in York Region and even up near Lake Simcoe but nobody at their city halls said they could guarantee we could get the right zoning if we bought there.
“But then somebody told us to try this area. The Mayor at the time, John Williams, was a very big help to the business. You get the idea people here really want business and want to work with businesses. Everybody here is so good at promoting businesses.”
They built everything on the site from scratch, including five large aging rooms, the processing facility, their living quarters and a bit later, the retail operation. From day one, La Cultura began selling its products to local restaurants, but also got huge buy-in from regional craft breweries, ciders, distillers and wineries.
Thus far, amongst the diversity of meat products available, Jane said that the beef bresaola and beef carpaccio are the best sellers. The former is a good addition to a light luncheon plate or as an ingredient in more elaborate dishes, while the latter is often a perfect accompaniment to red wine. Also available are pork products such as pancetta, culatello, fiocco, capocollo (aka capicola), cacciatore and lardo. And since the business started as a way to help utilize water buffalo, La Cultura also makes its hormone free slinzega.
One of the biggest challenges the Abballe’s faced was in relation to their pork products. For the kind of meats they wanted to make, there needed to be, let’s say a certain heft required of the pigs being used.
“We always try to work with local farmers to find good pork, but we need heavy pigs for dry curing and it’s not easy to grow pigs like that and a lot of farmers don’t do it. And then also the local slaughterhouses do not have the right equipment or facilities to slaughter the heavier pigs. We were working with a farmer about five years ago and he did have some of the right pigs, but then we had to send the animals down to the London area to slaughter. It was a lot of money and time to take the animal there and bring it back,” said Jane, who said they will continue to work towards having a local source for both pigs and slaughtering, but to meet the demand for their high-end pork products, are importing pork from parts of Spain and Austria where they farm heavier pigs.
But, really, that has been the primary challenge for La Cultura. Word is getting out amongst the public from throughout the Bay of Quinte Region and beyond, and the retail operation has done wonderful business since opening a little less than three years ago.
“Before we opened to the public we started doing well selling to high end restaurants, mostly for the charcuterie dishes. Now the public can come and by that same meat from us directly. We do get a lot of local people and lots of tourists. In the summer time, when the tourists come to Quinte West, Belleville and Prince Edward County, they hear about us from the local restaurants, where they try out our products and then they come in to buy it to take home with them. So we have people from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and all over southern Ontario coming in,” Jane said, adding that she and Franco both love living in the Bay of Quinte Region.
“In the beginning it was hard for me, especially because I was always more of a city girl. I was born in Kiev and then I moved and lived in Toronto. But now I would never go back to the city. I love it and I am trying to convince all my family to move here too. I love the people around here, I love the fresh air and there’s no traffic. If I have to go into Toronto, I can’t wait to get back.”
For more information on the various meats to be enjoyed from La Cultura, visit www.lacculturasalumi.com.