Nduja (pronounced en-doo-ya) is soft, spreadable cured pork, spiked with plenty of chiles. In the charcuterie world, nduja falls into the category of “spreadable salamis” (I promise that’s a real thing). Mmm, spreadable meat—can’t you just picture Homer Simpson mumbling it? You might think of it as spicy pork butter, though there’s no dairy involved.
It starts out like salami: raw pork and pork fat are mixed together with seasonings, then hung to cure for several weeks. Like all salamis, nduja was traditionally made with the meat left from butchery. The difference that makes salami solid and nduja spreadable is in the proportions. Most salami is about 75-80% lean meat and 20-25% fat. Nduja is the opposite. All that extra fat makes the texture luscious and spreadable.
A few decades ago, nduja was all but unknown outside of its hometown of Spilinga in Calabria.
Calabria has long been known for its fruit and spicy chiles. Nduja is a more recent export. In fact, the nduja we get today isn’t an export at all—in the US it’s illegal to import Italian salami, so essentially all of the “Italian-style” salamis you see at the store are made right here in the states. Maybe nduja stayed a secret because of those tricky export laws or maybe the people of Spilinga just wanted to keep it all for themselves. But eventually word got out, and over the last decade it’s been making a big impression in the food world. It’s no surprise—tasting nduja for the first time is a memorable event. There’s the punch of spice, the unctuous richness, the silky texture, the deep, savory meatiness. The Wall Street Journal’s Jane Black said: “If Joan Jett were an Italian, and a sausage, she’d be ‘nduja.”
Our nduja is made by Tony Fiasche, a fifth-generation nduja maker.
Tony’s grandparents owned a butcher shop near Spilinga. Tony’s father, Agostino, was born there and grew up helping his father in the shop. As a boy he remembers breaking down whole hogs and grinding meat by hand with a crank—”not like we do today!” he recalls. Growing up, he says “my parents didn’t have money to buy me shoes. But there was always bread, always salami, always nduja.” He ate it on bread, mixed into pasta, on pizza.
Tony’s nduja starts with heritage-breed pork and chiles imported from Calabria.
His classic recipe features Berkshire pork. Berkshire is one of the most popular heritage breeds with chefs. It’s tender and has big flavor—to me it’s especially “porky.” Tony gets his Berkshire pork from a collection of family farms in southwest Minnesota. The pigs live free range, roaming and rooting as they please, spending their days outdoors as the weather permits. They never receive subtherapeutic antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones.
Of course, with the recent nduja craze, Tony’s not the only one making it.
One less traditional approach comes from the pork curing masterminds at La Quercia in Iowa. Rather than make their nduja with raw pork, they begin with the trimmings leftover from their prosciutto, speck, and coppa, after the meat has cured for months. While there’s still plenty of spice involved, the smooth, savory flavor of the cured pork carries through.