The Italian word for luck happens to be her maiden name and the name of her Vermont-based food business, but for Patti Fortuna, it’s been good old-fashioned hard work that has leveraged the fortuna that has graced three generations of the family sausage-making enterprise.
The story begins in Calabria where Patti’s grandparents were born. Located in the toe of the boot that forms the southernmost region of Italy, Calabria is known for its rugged landscape and spicy cuisine … and sausages. (Among the many religious festivals held there annually, the town of Spilinga hosts a sausage festival every August.)
When Patti’s grandparents came to America in the early 1900s, they settled in Connecticut where they opened a meat market and made their own dry-cured sausages and salamis just as they had known in Italy. Her father and mother continued the business, and when Patti married Paul Stannard, the couple continued the family tradition in Westerly, Rhode Island, where their handmade sausage and salamis became famous for the unmistakably unique flavor and texture that results from their age-old method of dry-curing every piece.
In 2009 Patti and Paul decided to relocate the business to Sandgate, Vermont, where they had a vacation home. A strong mail-order client list made it possible for them to continue making their family recipes in the quiet mountain town they had always dreamed of one day making their permanent home. Their son has recently joined them in the business, making it a fourth-generation labor of love. “I am very proud to be able to offer our authentic Italian dry-cured meats,” says Patti. “I never forget how I got to be where I am.”
The ancient process of dry-curing meats begins by adding salt to the meat in the right proportion. Left to itself over weeks and months, the salt pulls the moisture out of the meat and produces a lean, dense and complexly flavored meat that is bacteria-free and safe for storage. As the enzymes break down the meat’s proteins, the savory flavor becomes concentrated.
Like many other labor-intensive crafts, producing sausage by hand is something of a dying tradition. But Patti and her family are doing their best to keep the artisan craft of dry-cured sausages and salami alive in Vermont. Fortuna’s sausage is a blend of hand-cut pork and a recipe for a salt, sugar and spice mix that has been passed down through the family. Every product is handmade in small batches, using carefully trimmed specially selected pork (local as much as possible). Once mixed with their own freshly ground spice and salt mixture, it’s stuffed into natural casings, tied up with pure cotton twine and hung to air-dry for up to 10 weeks.
As Patti explains, this process of slow fermentation is similar to taking milk and producing a distinctive aged cheese or turning grapes into a fine wine. The time, temperature and humidity must be strictly controlled for the best results.
In addition to flavor, what makes the Fortuna products different is their lack of nitrates, which have come under suspicion by some health advocates. Nitrates are often added by some sausage makers to retard any spoilage as a kind of insurance policy. In the United States the insurance also comes in the form of USDA regulations. Patti is able to offer her products without nitrates by using the traditional slow dry-curing techniques undertaken in controlled environments regulated carefully by USDA inspectors. Patti relies upon a partner in Gloversville, New York, who provides the necessary cool and dry environment as well as the safety oversight, which includes detailed written procedures and logs.
Fortuna’s received a completely unexpected accolade from the Los Angeles Times (“America’s Best”) in the early 1990s, which led to some national media attention. Fortunately for their many fans, they continue to make the same handcrafted sausages and salami. Their much acclaimed Soupy®, an all-natural, nitrate- and gluten-free soppressata, is made in Vermont and sold directly through their website and in selected stores throughout the state as well as at farmers’ markets.
Their Genoa salami is made from coarse-ground pork with fresh garlic, salt, fennel seeds, whole black peppercorns and a small amount of white wine. They also offer cacciatorini, a specialty of the Lombard region, also known as “chubbs” or “hunter’s salami” because hunters were known to carry this small rustic salami in their pockets to eat out in the fields. Their coppa is a dry-cured capicola made from a boneless pork shoulder hand-rubbed with spices and dry-cured for several months. The result is similar in texture to prosciutto but very tender with a rich, earthy flavor that will last three to six months refrigerated. A milder salami, Abruzzese, has its origin in the central coast region of Abruzzo, where the food is rustic and simple. Their newest product is finocchiona, a Tuscan-style salami flavored with Italian fennel, garlic and wine. They also have fresh sausage, bacon and, of course, pepperoni. Patti has included recipes on Fortuna’s website, and if you want to try it yourself, you can buy a Home Sausage Making Kit.
On their numerous trips to Italy over the years, Patti and Paul have picked up artisan cheeses, olives and Tuscan olive oil and vinegar, as well as a variety of specialty food items they now include on their website. Gift boxes are also an important part of their business and they are happy to put one together for any occasion. Online orders are promptly filled at fortunasausage.com.
Frederica Templeton believes we owe a debt of gratitude to all the Italian women who passed down through the generations their recipes for authentic and irreplaceable dishes we continue to enjoy today.