COURTESY OF VOLPI FOODS
Lorenza Pasetti is excited to lead Volpi Foods, and even more excited about prosciutto.
Growing up with the legacy of the family business, Volpi Foods, hanging over her, Lorenza Pasetti knew she was expected to carry forth that legacy one day. And, when it was her turn, she proudly did — even if she put in her notice a few times.
"I ended up resigning three times in the first ten years," Pasetti says. "It's a tough business, and it's a male-dominated business. There are a lot of stubborn men in this business — some of them I'm related to. But if you look at it the right way, it can be fun and challenging to get beyond that. I tried to wrap my head around that and use it as a bigger way to change the messaging and provide for some sort of legacy for the family moving forward for my time here. I figure I didn't start the business, and hopefully I won't end it, so I was going to try to make the most out of the time I was given to carry the torch."
As president of the storied cured meats producer, Pasetti has been guiding the Volpi ship since 2002. For her, prosciutto, capocolla and bresaola have been a part of her life since she was the little girl who brought salami and butter sandwiches to school — something she recalls as being very different from the PB&Js on white bread her classmates had for lunch.
"These products were part of our everyday meals — I mean every day," Pasetti says. "It was very different from what my friends ate, because they weren't exposed to these products and didn't understand them the way people do today. This is very unscientific, but back then, it felt like maybe one out of every ten people knew what prosciutto was. Now, it feels more like five or six out of ten. Then, if you showed up with a prosciutto sandwich when everyone else was eating mayonnaise on white bread, they looked at you differently."
Pasetti's role has given her a front-row seat to these types of changes in people's eating habits during the past few decades. As she sees it, the desire for authenticity and knowing about where food comes from has been a boon to artisan businesses like Volpi. She's observed her customers' growing willingness to try new things, which has the positive effect of inspiring creativity in what they cook and, in turn, what Volpi produces.
However, she admits that there's also been a downside. As the quest for authenticity has driven people's behavior, it's also called into question whether or not it is possible to be an authentic producer of Italian cured meats outside of the old country. It's a perception she is quick to dispute.
"There's a snootiness that a pig has to be fed a diet of acorns for it to be premium," Pasetti says. "When I hear people say that our meat here is not as good, I think, 'Really?' I'm a firm believer that in America, we have the best meat in the world. We use great raw materials and produce it in a traditional manner. I agree that the way a pig is raised is important. That's why we've put together the Raised Responsibly program that is launching in 2021. I'm not taking anything away from how an animal is raised or its diet. All of that is important, but we have great raw material here. Let's not cut ourselves short because we're not in Europe."
That confidence in everything that Volpi produces is what drives Pasetti. Still passionate about the business 30 years in, she sees it as her mission not only to produce great food for people to enjoy, but also to instill in them a love for that food.
"It still really excites me," Pasetti says. "I love to teach and talk about it, and there are a few of us in the industry who are so passionate about what we do that we can talk for hours — even days. It's a really interesting business with so many variables to manage. That means it's never dull, which is very important to me."
Pasetti took a break from the business to share her thoughts on the state of the St. Louis food and beverage community, the importance of saying "good morning" and what gives her hope.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
That Lorenza is a female name, not a misspelling of Lorenzo.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Saying “Good Morning." It is like saluting to all.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Reading people’s minds.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
There are too many to declare only one a winner. I like to admire from afar and keep favorites close to my vest.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Salt. Historical attributes, varied, necessary and flavorful.
If you weren’t working in the food business, what would you be doing?
I would have gone into another food business – gelato. The food business is one that allows you to create, express yourself and share with others. The people in the food business are generally exciting and pleasant. We have a service mentality and are constant learners always trying to improve what we do and who we are.
As a food professional, what do people need to know about what you are going through?
My heart goes out to all the restaurants and their food service employees. Customers can show that they care and support area restaurants by ordering pick-up whenever possible. I know it is hard, but if we all pull together, we can support our neighborhood eateries by ordering out, purchasing gift cards, etc. To all the small business owners out there: Stay calm and stay the course. We’ll get through this together.
What do you miss most about the way you did your job before COVID-19?
The stability. Each day, there is a new wave of stress put on us — making sure employees are healthy, making sure our grocery stores get product in, making sure our community is able to survive. COVID has made these measures much more volatile, and the stress that brings can be quite overwhelming at times.
What do you miss least?
Nothing comes to mind.
What have you been stress-eating/drinking lately?
I’ve recently started making bone broth. I’ve been testing out new recipes every other week, and my favorite so far has been an oxtail bone broth, slow-cooked over 48 hours.
What do you think the biggest change to the food and beverage industry will be once people are allowed to return to normal activity levels?
People will return to dining out with a vengeance. I hope that our restaurants will be ready for the demand!
What is one thing that gives you hope during this crisis?
To see our community, whether it be the broader food industry or simply our little neighborhood of The Hill, come together and make sure everyone is cared for.
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