FORT MILL — Special to the Fort Mill Times
Where can you find 800 pounds of ground beef and a bunch of happy workers? At Ed Currie’s Puckerbutt Pepper Company at 235 Main St. in Fort Mill.
Why are they there? They are part of St. Philip Neri’s army of workers assembling, piece by piece, the Italian Festival’s signature meatballs.
A secret recipe is used for all of the food in the Italian Fest, and the meatballs are no exception. Parishioner Ann DiNoto’s is the time-honored secret recipe used for the meatballs every year. The spices are assembled in baggies and added to the large round mounds before the nearly half-pound meatballs are cooked and tested for the perfect temperature, then frozen until it’s time to add them to the special Italian Fest sauce as we get closer to the May 16-18 festival.
This is the 18th year for the festival, but this year, the festival will be graced by the new sanctuary, recently completed and now open for services.
Four sessions of collaboration are necessary to construct all of the meatballs and a group, 30 strong, is needed to fill the work slots. Secret tasters were served samples of the scrumptious confections and the meatballs were announced “Perfecto!”
And that’s just for the meatballs – there’s also a group of 30 to 35 brave souls busy concocting the sausages – also from a secret recipe – made from another 800 pounds of meat.
“Denny Rodino is the one-man/ five-man team behind the Italian Fest,” said Roberta Whitaker, spokesperson for the parish and a long-time parishioner. Rodino has headed up the group assembling meatballs for the last three years. He’s been running the Italian Fest for the last two years.
There’s no creative cooking: the group only uses tried-and-true recipes, according to Eleanor DiBias, another parishioner. In order to guarantee goodness, recipes are supplied for the lasagna, ziti and egg plant parmesan entrees served every year.
“Seven hundred families are involved in the festival organized and led by Rodino,” said Richard Gagnon. “They set up, clean up, staff the booths, help with cooking and then start planning next year’s event when it’s all over with.”
The 1,600 pounds of meat is purchased from Fort Mill-based US Foods. After it’s turned into meatballs and sausages, it will be sold a la carte, and in sandwiches at the festival. This year there will be a small amount of hot sausages constructed with Puckerbutt’s Volcanic Dust in a nod to Currie for allowing the group to use his kitchen.