Thanks to the massive Calabrian migration of the 1950s towards North Italy and America, the world was introduced to the delights of ‘Nduja, the soft fiery salumi produced in certain areas of South Italy, particularly Calabria.
What is 'Nduja?
It looks like a large sausage which, when cut, reveals a soft consistency and a bright red colour. The name ‘nduja derives from the French word andouille, a sausage made from pig’s offal. All of these terms originate from the Latin word "inductilia" ("things that are ready to be inserted", from "inducere"). It would seem that ‘nduja was introduced to Calabria by Joachim Murat, who reigned over Naples during the Napoleonic era. When they got to know it, the Calabrians gave it a twist of their own: pork meat spiced up with plenty of chili pepper.
Where is it produced?
The original ‘nduja is produced in the area of Vibo Valentia, mainly around Spilinga, whose economy is based on agriculture, animal farming and semi-nomadic livestock rearing. This small municipality is known as "the town of 'nduja" because it has successfully handed down this craft product from one generation to another. On 8 August, the "Sagra della 'Nduja" takes place and is one of the most ancient and crowded food festivals of all.
How is it produced?
The ingredients of ‘nduja are simple pork cuts such as cheek, belly and larding, taken from the shoulder, leg, head and underbelly of the animal. The meat is finely chopped together with generous doses of dried red Calabrian chili pepper, then mixed and blended to create a creamy mixture without any addition of artificial colourings or preservatives. The chili pepper is responsible for the bright red colour of the end product and also preserves it for lengthy periods.
When ready, the meat is stuffed into a natural, so-called ‘blind’ casing. Top quality 'nduja contains the chili pepper grown around Roggiano Gravina and San Marco Argentano, while the industrialised varieties make use of imported chili pepper. Then the product is lightly smoked by burning false acacia and olive wood. Once smoked, it is left to cure for at least three months and no more than six, according to the size of the salumi. The curing process must take place in a dry, fresh and perfectly hygienic place.
How to enjoy it at its best
The quality of ‘nduja depends on how the chili pepper was dosed during production. Since the only way to find out is to taste it, our advice is to go cautiously and add the ‘nduja a little at a time. It is simply sublime when spread on hot toasted bread or used as a topping for pizza or pasta. It is widely used in meat and tomato sauces (added at the start with the gently fried vegetables). It is excellent on slices of semi-mature cheese or used to add flavour to a frittata.
As well as being sold in the traditional casing, it also comes packed in jars. "In Spilinga they pronounce it 'ndugia, exactly like the Brits”, says Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei, who introduced this product to London in his restaurants and on his signature pizza. One of his mythical dishes is Charcoal Scallops 'Nduja and Salsa Verde.
Some claim that no wine will stand up to all that chilli pepper: the taste buds and the palate are overwhelmed. Think outside the box and try a dish of spaghetti with 'nduja paired with a Mezcal Marca Negra, 100% agave, with a rounded and slightly smoky taste, just like ‘nduja itself. A pleasant surprise.