COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VA. -- Ferruccio Fiorucci calls here at 7:30 every morning from Rome to talk to his daughter. Fiorucci is not just a protective father, inquiring about Silvia and her family. He has other bambini to worry about, too: the prosciutti, mortadelle, sopressate and genoa salamis. The Italian cold-cut magnate has entrusted his 27-year-old daughter and 32-year-old son-in-law with a brand new $20-million factory and 137 years of family tradition.

Fiorucci Foods Corp., is not the first company to make Italian-style cured meats in this country. But it is the first firm from one of Italy's premier ham-producing areas to make hams in Virginia, one of America's foremost ham-producing regions. It is also the first U.S. venture for Fiorucci, Europe's largest manufacturer of Italian specialty meats, which operates seven plants in Italy and offices in England, France and Germany.

Shy and unassuming, Silvia Fiorucci-Colmignoli is the great granddaughter of Innocenzo Fiorucci, who started the family business back in 1850. Cesare, Innocenzo's son, helped his father turn the company into a full-scale industrial operation. And now, Ferruccio, Cesare's son, has continued to expand the corporation into new markets with the help of his three daughters.

Aside from a strong sense of family tradition, the Fioruccis -- like other producers of hams in Italy's Parma and San Daniele regions -- have a strong sense of manufacturing tradition. In these areas of lush pastures and cool, dry temperatures, curing meat is considered as much of an art and a science as making fine wines. A consortium in each region inspects each ham, setting strict manufacturing standards for members.

Due to a fear of the possible spread of certain hog diseases, the U.S. government has not permitted the importation of Italian hams -- until this past spring, when the ban on prosciutto made by the Parma process was lifted. Satisfied that Parma's curing methods sufficiently alleviate the threat of animal disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already given the green light to several Italian processing plants.

It may be two or more years, however, before we start seeing imported Italian hams in this country, as the slaughter operations still need to be approved, and the hams aged.

Until that happens, Ferruccio Fiorucci wants to see his company's traditions transferred to his plant here where pork artisans are more likely to discuss hog prices over Smithfield ham and biscuits than prosciutto and figs.

The company chose to build a plant 10 miles south of Richmond because the area approximates the climate of producing regions in Italy, and because it is close to primary markets and raw materials. It was also aggressively pursued by the state of Virginia, according to Claudio Colmignoli, Silvia's husband and president of the U.S. branch of the company.

The large white factory sits on 35 acres in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by serene farmland. But inside the plant is a bustling city of sausages, with corriders leading to temperature-controlled chambers of hanging meats, smoky smells and workers in white.

A lone 100-pound mortadella hangs from the ceiling of one room, resting in its 30-hour cooking cycle; miles of pepperoni are being turned into links in a processing area; and boxes of fennel, anise and red, black and white peppers await mixing in a chamber with an aroma worthy of an Adriatic aerosol.

One half of the plant is a chain of rooms used exclusively to make prosciutto, the most noted of Parma's hams, and one of the most tedious to make. Traditionally, American companies make prosciutto by salting the meat and storing it for two to three months at high temperatures -- in effect, semi-cooking it. In Italy, and in the plant here, however, the hams that will become prosciutto are never cooked, but are aged for eight months to a year.

"After 2 1/2 months, Italian prosciutto is raw meat," explains Silvia Fiorucci-Colmignoli, while leading the factory tour with Giovanni Giussani, the company's vice president of manufacturing.

Fiorucci's Virginia-made prosciutto starts with hams purchased from either Gwaltney of Smithfield, Lundee (in North Carolina) or Commission Sales, a supplier in Chicago. Since American hogs are leaner than Italian hogs, says Giusanni, the company has to settle for 22- to 24-pound hams, rather than the 28- to 30-pound hams used for Italian-made prosciutto. (The company can't make its Grand Riserva prosciutto, which is aged for two years, in this country because it can't get big enough hams.)

The fattier hams with redder meat are chosen for Fiorucci's first quality prosciutto; the leaner, paler hams are reserved for Colosseum, a lesser-quality product line. In the first step of the lengthy aging process, the hams are coated with coarse salt (the Colosseum line is also coated with garlic and pepper to bring out more flavor) and allowed to rest for 40 days at 34 to 36 degrees. Hundreds of hams, still raw and red, sit on shelves in the salting chamber. Here, the salt will penetrate to one inch inside the meat.

Next, the outer layer of salt is brushed off. The dry air in the resting room ensures that the inner salt will seek the greater humidity in the center of the ham and migrate further into the meat. Humidity and temperature control are crucial at each phase of the process so that the hams shrink properly. If they shrink too much in the initial stages, for instance, explains Fiorucci-Colmignoli, they will not be able to "breathe" and will get a hard crust around the outside.

The hams are then washed and hung to dry. As in other rooms, if the temperature and humidity outdoors is right, the air is channeled inside. (In the humid summer months, air conditioning must be substituted.)

The hams are then sent to the preseasoning area, where they are spread with a layer of lard to prevent a crust from forming. Throughout the process, workers push the hams on overhead wire racks; there are no fork lifts or trucks here.

In the preseasoning room, which is filled with rows and rows of hams, Guisanni suddenly takes a thin, beige stick from his breast pocket and shoves it into a nearby ham. He pulls it out, then smells it.

"If it {the stick} smells like rotten eggs, the salt hasn't penetrated enough," explains Guisanni. The stick, actually carved from a horse's tibia, is a traditional instrument of the trade, Guisanni explains.

At the end of the labyrinth, the aging chamber is the most dramatic. In a huge room permeated with a yeasty and slightly sweet smell similar to a vineyard cellar, almost 50,000 hams hang from wire meshes. Like newborns in a maternity ward, each ham is tagged with the date it started life as a prosciutto. Here the hams look considerably more mature than they did in the initial rooms; they are smaller, darker and look cooked even though they have been cured.

Fiorucci-Colmignoli says that the company takes great pains to ensure that the firm's Virginia prosciutto tastes like the product made in Italy. Every month the Colmignolis send a complete sample product line back to Italy for taste tests, and every two or three months a team of Italian quality-control experts comes to Richmond to test the product on site.

Whether or not Fiorucci's prosciutto tastes the same in Italy can't be judged here in Colonial Heights (we won't know until they start importing it, which is in the works). Nevertheless, Fiorucci's prosciutto may not be the best of the company's domestic product line, at least in the opinion of this reporter. In an informal tasting of a handful of its competitors, Fiorucci's ham was judged to lack the depth of flavor of Canadian-made San Daniele, for instance.

The company's domestic salamis and sausages are quite good. Unlike the prosciutto, they are made and packaged differently here than in Italy because of USDA requirements for certain protein and moisture ratios. (Italian sausage products are under no specific protein/moisture requirements, explains Guissani, and often have more water than their U.S. counterparts. Because of shorter distribution chains, Italian sausages are often packed in nets, not vacuum packaged.)

Thus far, Fiorucci Foods Corp., has distributors in every major U.S. market and is selling products in 28 states. In this area, according to the company, Fiorucci products are being sold at Rossini's and Vace in Northwest Washington, Vace in Bethesda, Nick's Supermarket in Clinton, Marinelli's in Adelphi and Tivoli in Rosslyn. They are also currently being purchased by about five restaurants.

By the end of the year, the company hopes for gross sales of $3 million. Wholesaling for $4.60 to $4.80 a pound, Fiorucci's first prosciutto was ready in July. (Here in Washington, it retails for anywhere from $8 to $11.50 a pound.) The Colmignolis, who now live in Richmond, have had a hectic two years. Claudio Colmignoli, although not a newcomer to this country (he received a degree in business from Rollins College in Florida in 1978), practically commuted from Italy during the planning phases of the factory. His schedule was 10 days in Richmond, 10 days in Rome.

When the family moved here with their two children, ages 9 and 6, Silvia Colmignoli had to adapt to a lot at once: a new country, new language and the responsibility of serving as vice president of marketing of her father's new company.

She also had to get used to how Americans eat Italian-style meats. A good sandwich needn't be slathered with mustard and mayonnaise, Colmignoli contends. Italians prefer simple preparations, eating cured meats on crusty bread, perhaps with a thin spread of butter, or in salads with a drizzle of oil and vinegar.

Nevertheless, the Colmignolis believe that Italian-American food is generally getting more authentic. American chefs are getting away from the view that if you "add garlic, it's Italian," Claudio Colmignoli commented, finishing up a lunch of Fiorucci meats on bare bread, espresso and chocolates.

Silvia Fiorucci-Colmignoli says that her children "love it" here, and have eagerly adapted to American eating habits. While the Colmignolis employ an Italian cook at home, they make sure to eat out at least once a week with the children -- at McDonald's.

Here are some fast recipes from the Fiorucci family's chef in Italy. SFORMATO DI PATATE (Mortadella and Potato Pie) (6 servings)

2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3/4 pound mortadella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup grated mild cheddar cheese

Pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, or until tender. Strain, peel and mash well. Combine potatoes with the egg yolk, parmesan, lemon rind, nutmeg, pepper and mix quickly. Add the mortadella. Place mixture in a greased 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle grated cheese over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve.


12 small veal scallops (about 2 pounds), pounded very thin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage

4 tablespoons butter

6 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half crosswise

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Sprinkle veal slices with sage on both sides. Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the veal slices and cook quickly over high heat for about 1 minute. Have the prosciutto ready and as the veal slices are being turned over, top them with the prosciutto and cook for about 1 more minute. Carefully remove the veal from the pan, arrange on serving platter and keep warm.

Add the wine, salt and pepper to the liquid in the pan. Reduce for a few seconds and then pour this sauce over the veal and serve immediately.

INSALATA RICCA (4 servings)

1 bulb fresh fennel

1 small head curly lettuce

2 ounces sopressata, thinly sliced

1/4 pound romano cheese

2 1/2 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse mustard

Salt and pepper

Wash and dry fennel and lettuce. Slice fennel thinly and arrange with lettuce on serving platter. Scatter sopressata over lettuce and fennel. Slice romano cheese into small, thin strips. Scatter over salad. In a blender, mix vinegar, oil, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix until smooth and creamy. Serve over salad.

FESTA DI TACCHINO DI PISSELLI (Turkey Breast with Peas and Pancetta)

(4 servings)

1 1/4 pounds turkey breast

Salt and pepper

2 ounces pancetta, sliced into strips

2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 to 3 leaves fresh sage

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 cup tomato pure'e

1/2 cup white wine

4 ounces frozen peas, cooked

Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper. Wrap the sliced pancetta around the turkey and secure with kitchen twine. Secure rosemary sprigs and sage leaves under the string.

Sprinkle the meat with a tablespoon of olive oil and place in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Chop onion and saute' in remaining 4 tablespoons oil until translucent. Add peas and cook for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add tomato pure'e and cook 2 minutes, stirring if necessary.

Pour wine over the meat. Add peas with sauce and turn meat over once or twice. Cover meat with foil and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Remove twine, slice and serve.