“My dream is to make mortadella.” That’s not the kind of dream you hear about every day. But Davide Simoni ’s life has been one with this signature Bolognese cold cut since an early age.
He grew up among salumi: his father owns a prestigious deli in the center of town, within the old market area of Bologna, Salumeria Simoni, where they sell mortadella and other local cold cuts, all kinds of prosciutto including culatello, Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and many other regional delicacies. When, as a teenager, he didn’t behave – which, according to him, happened more often than not – his father “punished” him by giving him some chores to do at the salumeria. “He wanted to show me what it means to work,” Davide recounts with a laugh.
Now Davide is 31 years old and works at his father’s shop full-time. Even though that’s not what he had necessarily planned to do: he studied Communication at the University of Bologna and worked as a journalist at a local newspaper for a few years. But when things took a turn he didn’t like, he returned to his first love: being a salumiere. “After the disappointment with my journalism career, I called up my father and told him, ‘Let’s open a salumeria in every European city’,” he remembers saying.
So Davide started working at his father’s shop, but then, since “it is difficult to work with your own father,” he went to learn the ropes of the trade at a local mortadella production company, Pasquini & Brusiani, where they still make mortadella the artisan way: “Mr. Pasquini is an old man, a bit grouchy, but he sort of adopted me as his nephew and taught me everything he knew. He is one of the few remaining artisans – I want to do it well and I want to do it myself, that’s how he describes his work making mortadella.”
After some time at the mortadella company, Davide decided he wanted to return to work at the shop, and with that, he brought some innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. To share his passion for mortadella, he now offers 30-minute lessons on the history of mortadella, followed by a mortadella tasting. The lesson is offered in different languages including English and takes place just outside the store, among open-air stands of seafood, fresh pasta, fruit and vegetables.
“This profession has lost its prestige, but it is really tough work. Many have quit. I am happy I anticipated the economic hard times and learned a profession. Ours is a small size company, but we keep going because there are people who wake up at 6 every day and leave at 8 at night. Every morning you have to prepare the counter and every evening you have to dismantle it,” he explains.
The hard work has paid off: Salumeria Simoni is now an institution in Bologna, and even the rich and famous, such as the Bologna team soccer players, local politicians and singers, are regulars. “We’ve been labeled as a VIP deli, but I don’t like this label, to me all my clients are VIP,” Davide says fervently. “I love all my clients. There are the ones you get more attached to, the ones you know by name and know what they want, the ones who stop to chat when they come to the shop.”
Today, Davide is also actively involved with Salsamentari, the modern-day association of the old guild that, in the Middle Ages, brought together the people who worked pork’s meat to make mortadella. At the end of the 19th century, the cold cut industry was flourishing in Bologna, giving work to as much as 10,000 people. A local businessman decided to recreate the guild that had been dismantled by Napoleon and, in 1876, Salsamentari was born. It was through his members that mortadella became known and exported all over the world. “I love the history of this association, and I will do all I can to never let it die because it is such an important part of the history of Bologna,” Davide says proudly.
“I love my work because there is so much culture in it,” he continues. “Food is really the only thing you buy that gets inside of you, along with the knowledge of all the people involved in the process: not just the salumiere, but also the person who breeds the animals, the person who ties the strings around the whole mortadella, the person who gives it its cylindrical shape, the real artisans. And one day, I will own my artisan production, too.”
Salumeria Simoni is located in Via Drapperie 5/2a, in the heart of the medieval market area called Quadrilatero in the center of Bologna. For more info: www.salumeriasimoni.it
(Photos courtesy of Salumeria Simoni)
Sky Dylan-Robbins studied at the University of Bologna in 2009-2010. Originally from New York City, she made a series of videos about her Italian experience. Sky is now a producer at The New Yorker. Here is her interview and visit to the Simoni (father and son). Enjoy – and thank you Sky for letting us share!