By Katie Mellenbruch
I knew it was going to be tasty and delicious. What I didn’t know was that it would also give me a glimpse into my Italian heritage.
That night, we dined like true Italians and we felt like royalty. We ate fresh links of salami and prosciutto, and the best Italian bread from the Missouri Baking Company, just across the street from the Volpi store. It was the type of bread that has a crispy outer shell that just crumbles when it’s torn apart. Then, somewhere inside the hard exterior, is a soft, white, pillow-like center that just melts in your mouth. The bread reminds me of the hard exterior shell of my great-grandmother, who was a fierce and stubborn Italian woman, but was the most warm and caring person at heart.
We smeared soft gorgonzola cheese over our fresh Italian bread while layering different types of salami and prosciutto on top. While we ate, we shared stories of my Italian ancestors, shared stories of present day, and spoke of the future. The television in the kitchen was never turned on, my family wasn’t looking at their cell phones. we just stood around a beautiful spread of Italian meats, cheeses, and fresh bread and talked. We were frozen in time, living the life that my Italian great-grandmother brought to America.
When I was younger my father would tell me stories of the woman I was named after: my great-grandmother, Mama Katie. That night he told me a story about my great-grandmother, which although I had heard a thousand times, seemed new told with the tastes of Italy in front of us. This particular story was about how my great-grandmother would always cook a huge meal every Sunday, making her homemade pasta sauce in a huge pot that was full of secret ingredients that had been passed down from generation to generation. She would cook so much pasta that my father would wonder if she was going to feed the entire neighborhood (I understand that sometimes she did).
The beauty of these Sundays and these meals was that it didn’t matter if someone hadn’t spoken to the family in a few years or maybe left on bad terms. The door was always open to anyone for a nice Sunday meal of ‘pasta de sugu’ and meatballs. People would sit around the table and share stories of the present day and speak of the future. Of course, no one could ever leave after just have one bowl of pasta, and Mama Katie’s heart would break if someone didn’t have at least two bowls of her pasta. Her heart and soul went into her cooking and you could feel the warm feeling of “community within a family” in an edible form. Even now, when my father stands in the kitchen making sure to take the traditional steps to make the secret family pasta sauce, I can feel the spirt of my Mama Katie standing beside him, smiling because she’s so proud of her ‘little Lancie’ for carrying on the tradition.
I know that my family is not the only one to pass down tradition through food from generation to generation. In fact, it’s part of the story of Volpi Foods, a company rooted in Italian heritage. In a bigger way, they are doing the same thing and sharing and spreading their Italian heritage to anyone who will come and visit their store or buy their products at specialty food stores around the country. The food gives you the opportunity to take a moment and peak into the past and reflect on your ancestors.
I also know I’m not the only person of my generation to experience this phenomena while eating Vopli’s authentic and savory meats. My friend fondly speaks of her family driving up to Volpi with a huge cooler, ready to carry back their purchases of salami, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella. There has always been something magical about the way her eyes sparkle while she tells me stories about their trips back home. About how they have feasted (in the car, mind you) on fresh chucks of bread, globs of fresh mozzarella, and tangy and salty prosciutto spread over the top. Oh, and she just can’t say prosciutto with a North American dialect. When she eats Volpi products her Italian heritage rolls off her tongue with each word!
Thank you, Vopli, for bringing Millennials like me back into the world of our Italian heritage and back into the kitchens to spend time with our families. You brought me back to the day when entertainment meant sitting around a table with your family, friends, and neighbors to share stories of your past, present, and future, over delicious meats, freshly-baked bread, and creamy and sharp cheeses. Thank you for inviting my family into your own family, like true welcoming Italians.
Note: Volpi Foods has provided some level of compensation for related material on foodchannel.com, although not for this personal account.The author’s father is a videographer for The Food Channel.