Il Mondo Vecchio gets cheeky with guanciale, salumi

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This is the second in a series of pieces profiling Colorado-grown products...and what some local restaurants do with them. Read the first installment, on Hazel Dell mushrooms, here. Sticky, fragrant, bright orange fat. Rendered from chunks of silky guanciale, it slathers the agliolini all' Amatriciana pasta at Cellar Wine Bar, cutting into the tart San Marzano tomatoes bolstered by crispy bits of pork cheek. "Guanciale fat is my new favorite fat," says Cellar executive chef Joe Freemond. "I can't get enough of it." Guanciale, or pig cheeks cured with salt and spices, has only recently become available in America. Not smoked like bacon and fattier than pancetta, guanciale is the true meat of Rome, and is often paired with the classic Roman dish Amatriciana. (And woe be those who pile guanciale with Parmesan instead of Roman Pecorino.)

"It has a flavor that's unique, but kind of hard to place. It's got that good bacon-y, pork-y flavor to it, but it's a little more nuanced," says Freemond. But if you want some guanciale for your own kitchen, there's really only one place to turn: Il Mondo Vecchio.

Mark DeNittis had already been elbow-deep in meat for more than a decade when he and Gennaro DeSantis opened up Il Mondo Vecchio Salumi in 2009. From serving as the lead meat-cutting instructor for Johnson & Wales to opening the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, DeNittis translated his butchery bona fides into making salumi the same way his Italian-American family had in his childhood. DeNittis, the king of Colorado salumi, is strict about his meat. "It's simple," he says."I do what they did for thousands of years. I don't add any junk. It's simply high-quality meat that's humanely treated, raised and slaughtered." Not only is IMV the best place in town to find guanciale, it's the only salumi processor in the state that has USDA inspectors on-site every single day of production -- and DeNittis has piles of documents to prove it. "There are a lot of chefs in town making their own salumi, but it's a dangerous game if you don't do it right," says Freemond, who met DeNittis soon after Il Mondo opened and helped on some of its first batches of salumi. DeNettis also makes use of pork and beef from local farms like Cure Organic and chef Hosea Rosenberg's Blackbelly. "From start to finish, I'm following old-world practices, yet meeting new-world regulations," says DeNittis. IMV boasts more than eighteen dry-cured products, some of which are DeNittis family recipes. The black pepper salami is blunt, enveloping the palate. The sopressata has a bit of a pepper kick. And the guanciale, crispy like in Freemond's Amatriciana or just sliced raw in thin strips, is pure pork candy, with a strong flavor that has no equal among cured meats. IMV uses salt harvested from an ancient sea bed in Utah, black peppercorns, juniper and bay leaf to cure and season the guanciale -- and unlike many other salumi processors, no nitrate or nitrite. "Mark is so dedicated about what he does. He is fanatical about the quality of his chubs," says Freemond, which is why Cellar serves IMV coppa, bresaola and lamb merguez sausage. In fact, it's the only salumi supplier that Freemond uses. And what wine should you order to wash down all this beautiful meat? "I think Mark would be upset if you drank anything other than Carlo Rossi," Freemond chuckles. See more photos from Il Mondo Vecchio on the next page.

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