Proscuitto and other cured meats|
How Niagara Food Specialties has come to be…
In 1975, Mario Pingue Sr. established a restaurant and banquet facility in Niagara Falls that quickly developed a reputation for quality cuisine and attentive service. But a steady string of disparaging comments about the prosciutto being offered to guests opened Pingue’s eyes to realize that there was a discerning market niche that needed to be served.
In Canada, during the mid-70s, one was hard pressed to find quality Italian prosciutto and it was the readily available domestic product that Pingue’s customers dismissed as sub-par and “not like the prosciutto you served us at your home.”
This triggered Pingue to make prosciutto not just for his own family, but also for the growing demands of his catering business. The business, situated in an old dairy, had a sub-basement that was 30-feet below grade which Pingue figured would lend itself well as a cold cellar, or cantina, that was ideal for ageing prosciutto.
As a child, Pingue Sr. learned the tradition of curing meats from his grandfather since he was considered too young to work in the fields and his grandfather too old. So Pingue spent the days at his grandfather’s side doing a host of chores that included gathering wood, tending to livestock and seasonal responsibilities of making wine and preserving meats.
Pingue’s sons, Mario Jr., who later trained in Italy’s kitchens, and Fernando, were raised in the family business and, sometimes reluctantly, learned basic butchering and preserving traditions. Through the 90s and into the current decade, Pingue’s sons managed restaurants and bars. And while their father was semi-retired he continued to cure prosciutto and other meats for their establishments.
At the time, the Niagara region was experiencing a proliferation of wineries, and a few chose to enhance their winery with on-site restaurants. Michael Olson of Cave Spring Cellars’ On The Twenty Restaurant saw the need to define “Niagara Cuisine” and complement wines with foods, including Pingue’s cured meats. In 1998, at Olson’s request, Pingue Sr. began producing for others. Within a couple of years he was supplying cured meats to a handful of accounts from Vineland to Niagara-On-The-Lake. The business was truly cottage.
In 2000, Pingue Sr., toured San Daniele del Friuli, Italy’s renowned prosciutto producing region, and met with producers Rino & Angelo Coradazzi. The father-and-son team generously and graciously hosted Pingue at their prosciuttoficio. On his departure, Pingue left them his calling card and hoped that he one day could return the favour and host them in Canada.
In 2001, this favour was called for as Coradazzi Sr. came to visit Niagara. Coradazzi saw a very small cottage business but the experience was no different than his own beginnings and understood the quality of the product. He offered to train anyone from the Pingue family in a bid to take the business out of the cottage and to a more commercial level without compromising the artisan qualities of the product.
In late 2002, the Oliver-Bonacini group arranged through Chef Olson to have a tasting at Auberge du Pommier in Toronto, for its senior kitchen staff. Many of the employees had toured or completed stages in European kitchens so quality charcuterie was not foreign to them. Pingue Sr. was away at the time so Mario Jr. went to deliver the presentation and oversee the tasting. The product was enthusiastically received, which led Mario Jr. to immediately realize the prosciutto might have leg to grow outside of Niagara.
In January 2003, Mario Jr., arranged to go to San Daniele and train with Coradazzi to learn more about the business.
By the summer of 2003, Niagara Food Specialties moved to a 2400-square-foot facility and began producing for sales outside of Niagara. In 2007, Niagara Food Specialties received Provincial Inspection Approval.
2008 May 21, Niagara Prosciutto featured at Canada’s first James Beard Dinner event in Toronto at the Drake Hotel.
The Pingue brothers are still involved with event management overseeing full service catering.
Niagara Food Specialties is also an authorized dealer for Berkel Machine Products - the world leader of food slicing equipment.
The boys with their families pilgrimage to Italy annually to continue their learning, visiting San Daniele del Friuli, Parma, Bologna, and their dad’s hometown of Sulmona.
Mario & Fernando are often called to speak about their experiences and share their expertise to student classes at George Brown College and Niagara College.
The Pingues are founding members of Slow Food Niagara, the local chapter of the international organization that promotes the sustainability of local food production and maintaining food traditions that may be lost to the mass industrialization of the food system.
They are also founding members of the Niagara Food Co-operative; whose efforts are to fill a niche that has been ignored by large supermarket chains, create a market that will bring consumers and small seasonal focused farm-gate producers together.
They also donate to Project Share, Niagara’s food bank and to the Niagara Foundation which donates to charities whose mission are to serve Niagara.
Food & Beverage Experience November 2002 Niagara Food Specialties – Full service catering to Present
September 2001 Inpiazza Ristorante & Banquet Hall to September 2002 & Dakota’s Night Club
January 1998 Peninsula Lakes Golf Club to July 2002
April 1996 to July 2002 evviva Restaurant
January 1992 to January 1999 Castlerock Nightclub & Halftime Sports Lounge & Grill
Browse through our Products for Sale
Practices (our standards for raising or making our products)
About the Product Our goal is to source the best hams on the market. Our suppliers are either Certified Organic or on a “naturally” raised program i.e.; the Ontario hams are from free range animals that are grown to 8 to 10 months of age (double the age of market hogs), fed only non-GMO feeds, given no animal by-products, anti-biotic free, hormone free and humanely harvested. The larger Ontario hogs we source yield world class hams in size, flavour profile, colour and aroma. When the product comes into our hands, literally, we salt preserve only i.e., we are nitrate and phosphate free. Most of the spices we use are grown on our farm and are pesticide free.
THE COMPANY FUTURE It’s time to grow. Niagara Prosciutto and the other Pingue products have been sampled by many celebrity chefs while visiting Niagara including greats such as Michel Roux (Le Gavroche, London, UK); Charlie Palmer (Aureole, Manhattan & Las Vegas); the late Louis Palladin (Watergate Hotel, Washington D.C.); Norman VanAken (Norman’s, Coral Gables, Florida); Rick Moonen (Le Cirque, Manhattan; RM, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas), Grant MacPherson (Wynn, Las Vegas); featured at Culinary Institute of America Board of Director’s Dinner. The request always: “Can you ship this to us?”
We are currently looking for a site suitable for our new facility which will be CFIA approved.
After that, we hope to begin farming heirloom breeds of hogs…naturally!
INNOVATION We have gone backwards. We are not doing anything new but doing what is slowly being forgotten. We are working with farmers that want to make a sustainable living doing things “naturally” (in quotations because there is now legislation regulating how that word can be used, as is “bacon”!) On a commercial level, we are the only company doing it in North America, so we guess that might be innovative.
Niagara Food Specialties Products for Sale through the Coop
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Prod.ID Product Name [About Producer] Prod.Type Price #34 Capicollo - Half
Order number of Pieces. Approx. 1/2kg Piece Pork Raised with no Antibiotics, Vegetarian Feed
- $18.65/Piece #33 Capicollo - Whole
Order number of Pieces. Approx. 1kg Piece Pork Raised with no antibiotics, Vegetarian Feed
- $33.95/Piece #38 Guanciale - Pork Jowls
Order number of Pieces. Approx. 450-500gm per piece, Similar profile to Pancetta Bacon. Pork Raised with no Antibiotics, Vegetarian Feed
- $15.00/Piece #653 Medium-Mild Summer Grilling Sausage
Order number of 3 lb Coils. You will be billed for exact DRESSED/HANGING weight (approx. 3 - 5 Kg) Certified "Natural" Ontario raised pork sausage made with wine,chillies, black pepper, salt
- $9.95/Kg #36 Pancetta - Bacon/Belly
Order number of Pieces. Approx. 1/2kg Piece Pork Raised with no Antibiotics, Vegetarian Feed
- $17.50/Piece #37 Pancetta - Sliced
Order number of Packs. Approx. 12-16 Slices per Pack, 135-140gm Pork Raised with no Antibiotics, no hormones Vegetarian Feed
- $7.50/Pack #30 Prosciutto - 1/4 Piece, "Heart" with Shank
Order number of Pieces. Approx. 1.5kg per piece, Aged Min. 15 Months, Pork Raised without Antibiotics, Vegetarian Feed
- $73.50/Piece #27 Sliced Prosciutto
Order number of Packs. 12 Slices per Pack Approx. 30 grams, Aged Min. 15 Months, Pork Raised Without Antibiotics, Vegetarian feed
- $9.75/Pack #654 Spicy Summer Grilling Sausage
Order number of 3 lb Coils. You will be billed for exact DRESSED/HANGING weight (approx. 3 - 5 Kg) Certified "Natural" Ontario raised pork sausage made with wine, extra chillies, black pepper, salt and fennel