‘Nduja: The Spicy and Spreadable Calabrian Treat
‘Nduja (n-due-yah) is a spreadable, spicy, red pork meat that can be found everywhere in Calabria. Calabria is the southern Italian region that is the “toe” of the boot, so to speak. ‘Nduja is used for sauces, bruschetta, or on anything that spreadable meat – spalmabile – would be tasty, including a spoon.
‘Nduja is produced from the throat of a pig, called the guanciale meat, and also the pancetta – stomach meat – and the back lardo, or fat. The lardo, when mixed with salt and added to the meat, takes on another name that has no exact English translation, called sugna. This meat and fat mix is ground with salt, local peperoncino (the Italian chili pepper), and absolutely nothing else. Not even nitrates, a common preservative added to most sausages and cured meats (linked to a higher risk in cancer), adulterate this all-natural ‘nduja. Salt, the extended maturation, and the fact that 30% of ‘nduja is peperoncino, which acts as a natural preservative, defy the need for synthetic additives.
Calabrese ‘nduja producer Luigi Caccamo was as eager to share everything about ‘nduja as we were to taste it.
My classmates and I from the University of Gastronomic Sciences watched women working at a big, white butcher’s table that was stained orange, yellow, and red with pigments and juices squeezed out of the chili peppers and meat, and rubbed into the table. The women are all part of the Caccamo family, making the business a small, family-run affair. They mixed meat with peperoncino, filled intestine casings with a machine that grotesquely pumped the meat out until the casing was bulging (and bursting in a few cases). Then the ‘nduja meats were tied with a quick, well-practiced method, the women’s hands neatly tightening the strings. The next step was to age the ‘nduja for at least three months, during which time the flavors develop. ‘Nduja can be eaten fresh, but it’s not nearly as addicting as when it has been aged.
Caccamo uses the best pigs that Italy offers, which are the white pigs from Lombardy. He says that meat from the north of Italy is always good quality, and does not run the risk of being second-rate, which presumably happens now and then in the south. Caccamo’s family began to make ‘nduja just for themselves, like many Calabrian families do, according to an ancient family recipe and method. A passing interest became a passion, and the company grew to the still small size it is today, with seven employees and the hope to grow bigger this coming year. As small as the shops and workforce may be, Caccamo’s ‘nduja is sold internationally and can be bought in Eataly.
We tasted this savory, spicy treat on chunks of bread, served with red wine, cheese, and select smoked sausages that Caccamo also produces. I’ve tasted several other ‘ndujas in the past, and they are usually so spicy that no more than a smidgeon can be tasted at a time. Caccamo’s has been the smoothest, most spreadable ‘nduja that I’ve tried; the process of mincing, mixing, and mashing grinds it so finely that it is like a paté, with some meat fibers reminding you of its origins. The reason why Caccamo’s ‘nduja is not too spicy (in fact, not spicy enough for my taste; but sprinkle extra chili powder on it or – heck – just eat as much as you want without your tongue catching fire) is because Caccamo uses a mix of dolce, sweet, and piccante, spicy, peperoncini. The chilies are slightly smoked and then dried to a tenth of their original weight before being tossed into the mix.
Using a few simple ingredients that undergo a specialized process, Caccamo produces the best ‘nduja I’ve tasted. “It’s like a really good dish of spaghetti,” he said. If all the ingredients are of the best quality, then the simple plate of spaghetti becomes delectable. Like the perfect pasta, Caccamo uses only the best ingredients to make a product that does not lend itself to moderation in consumption. It is downright addictive.
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