Sunterra Market is about to get more European.
On a Friday morning at Keynote MARKETbar in Calgary, groups of Sunterra Market team members are chitchatting at dark wooden tables waiting for the presentation to start. There are tasting plates set out on top of product fact sheets. It’s finally time to rollout the Soleterra d’Italia product line.
Ray Price, Sunterra Group President, gets up to explain how a family-run company from Alberta came to partner with a family-run company from over 8,000 kilometres away in Modena, Italy. It all started in Japan, of course.
Sunterra Farms exports about 70 per cent of its fresh pork to Japan, so Ray spends time at trade shows there. At one of those shows he met some Italians that loved the quality of Sunterra Farms pork so much they insisted Ray come to Italy to consider a supply deal. He eventually went to tour multiple cured meat plants and ended up falling in love with Industria Salumi Simonini.
“It’s the highest quality product we could find in Italy,” says Ray, describing rooms and rooms of sweet-smelling prosciutto to the salivating audience. And it happens to be run by fourth generation prosciutto and salami makers.
Since 1927, the Simonini family of Modena has been synonymous with superior cured Italian pork products. Today the company is run by Celestino and Brunella Simonini, along with their children Alberto and Silvia. Brunella is a slicing specialist, Alberto is responsible for production and Silvia is in charge of marketing. It was Celestino who came to tour Sunterra Farms just two months after Ray’s Italian visit. Ray beams as he tells the crowd what Celestino had to say: “I’ve traveled around the world, and your pork is the best in the world.”
Thinking that Celestino wanted to purchase Sunterra Farms pork to use at their plant in Italy, Ray says he laughed when, at the airport to head back home, Celestino tapped him on the arm and said “I think we should build a plant together in Canada.” Quickly realizing that Celestino was not joking, Ray agreed to take the weekend to think about it. And with that, Soleterra d’Italia was born.
Skip over a year or two of trips back and forth, business plans and so on, and we’re about to taste the first batch of Soleterra cured and cooked meats. First up is prosciutto. Everyone grabs a delicate slice of the dry-cured ham and pops it in their mouths. Grins and nods follow as Marketing Manager Ted Haney explains that Soleterra prosciutto has such a beautiful melt because it’s aged for over a year, allowing the prosciutto to dry from the outside in without needing as much salt as lesser-aged hams. Some people grab another slice as the prosciutto is cleared to make way for Modena ham, rostello ham, mortadella, coppa, pancetta, speck and more. A Sunterra team member, Claudio, bursts out, “I’m Italian and this feels like home.”
Next it’s time for the salami lineup. Nine unique cured salamis are passed around as we all silently calculate how many slices of each we can eat without getting too full to try them all. There’s the Milano, a medium grain salami with a simple pepper flavour. The Napoli has a sweet taste of garlic, while the Ungherese has both garlic and light smoke flavour with a tender, silky texture. Finocchio salami has a magnificent fennel taste and Tartufo salami is made with real black truffle. The Campagnolo is aged longer than the rest for a drier texture with all natural taste. The Toscano salami is pressed and has a subtle mace flavour and the Calabrese Piccante adds spiciness with chile peppers and paprika. Finally, the traditional Contadino salami has a large grain, peppercorn flavour and is tied in string.
With everyone happily full and slunk back in velvety blue seats, Ray explains that Soleterra is in phase one, meaning that the products are made in Italy, imported to Canada and sliced at Sunterra Meats. Once the new plant is built north of Calgary, phase two will see all of the products made here using Sunterra Farms pork and traditional Simonini family recipes and processes.
“It’s an unusual thing,” says Ray. “It’s a really new concept.”
Soleterra d’Italia products will be in restaurants and retail stores in North America and Asia. It is currently available at Sunterra Market in Calgary and Edmonton.