What is nduja, how do you use ’nduja and where do you buy ’nduja? Here’s our guide to Calabria’s spicy spreadable pork paste that is so beloved in its birthplace of Spilinga that they even have an annual Festival del ’Nduja or Festival of the Spicy Sausage Paste. This is the first post in a new ’nduja recipes series.
’Nduja was a revelation when we first sampled the fiery Calabrian pork paste at a salumeria in Italy’s capital Rome in the spring of 2008. While ’nduja was well-known to Italian food-lovers, and beloved in its birthplace of Calabria in Southern Italy, where it’s regularly eaten on everything from bread to pizza, its popularity hadn’t yet spread across the globe.
It certainly would have been possible to find ’nduja in Italian delicatessens in the Calabrian diasporas in Europe, USA, South America, and Australia – of the many millions of Italians who emigrated from the 1870s to 1970s, the majority were from Southern Italy’s regions of Calabria and Sicily – however, it wasn’t yet on restaurant menus around the world.
Now it seems Calabria’s fiery pork paste is popping up everywhere. We were even able to get our hands on some fantastic ’nduja here in Cambodia recently. We thought that was as good an excuse as any to tell you all about the Calabrese sausage paste and start a series on our best ’nduja recipes. As we publish the recipes, we’ll add links below under ‘How to Use ’Nduja’.
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Our Guide to Calabria’s Spicy Sausage Paste Called ’Nduja
’Nduja was such a delightful surprise when we first tried the fiery pork pâté in Rome back in early 2008 that we put tasting ’nduja at its origin at the top of our Calabria to-do list. We remember the date because we were only in the Italian capital for a handful of days before we had to pick up a hire car to drive south to research the first English-language travel guidebook to Calabria.
While in Rome we tested out a couple of local tours and experiences, including a fantastic Italian language lesson cum Italian wine class, and a walking tour that took in some of Rome’s finest and oldest shops for Italian gourmet specialities. When we mentioned to our lovely guide that we were heading to Calabria next, she asked if we’d tried nduja.
Despite numerous trips to Italy over a decade for travel guidebook writing assignments and holidays, the heavenly thing that is ’nduja had somehow evaded us. Terence and I had long been lovers of Italian cuisine and back in Sydney in the late 1980s and 1990s, we’d both worked with Italians who loved their food and Terence also worked in the kitchen of an Italian cafe by day, trattoria by night.
My colleague Chiara was so proud of her Calabrian heritage and Southern Italian culinary traditions that she frequently brought dishes to work to share with us. Chiara’s mum was a chef at Leichhardt’s legendary Bar Italia, which opened in 1952, and Chiara frequently sent me home with scrummy Italian specialties, from trays of her mum’s homemade tiramisu to jars of pickled peppers and eggplants. Yet somehow I didn’t know about ’nduja.
What is Nduja?
So what is ’nduja? The spicy sausage paste is a traditional Calabrian pork product that originated in the village of Spilinga in the province of Vibo Valentia in Southern Italy’s region of Calabria. Calabrian food is fantastic and the region is a tantalising culinary destination that’s famous for everything from its fiery red peppers and sweet red onions from Tropea to its fantastic wild mushrooms.
In Calabria, ’nduja is typically made with just a few ingredients: the pork shoulder, pork belly and tripe of Calabrian pigs, local salt, and roasted spicy red peppers from Calabria, which give the sausage paste its vibrant red colour.
While it’s thought that the name ’nduja, which might once have been ‘anduja’, suggests that the Calabrian specialty was derived from the French ‘andouille’, which might have been introduced to Calabria in the 13th century by the Angevins, the only thing the two sausages share is that they’re smoked.
Nduja is so much more intense in flavour, which is why another theory suggests that ’nduja is related to sobrasada from Spain’s Catalan island of Mallorca. While sobrasada is certainly a closer cousin, it’s worth noting that Italy has soppressata Calabrese, from Calabria, and sobrasada is actually like a cross between ’nduja and soppressata.
How Do You Pronounce ’Nduja
So many stories about the spicy Southern Italian sausage paste start with how to pronounce ’nduja so let clarify a couple of things. While it’s thought that the apostrophe before the ‘n’ in ’nduja indicates that the ‘n’ is barely uttered, it’s worth noting that depending on the Calabrian dialect, it’s pronounced either as ‘en’ or not at all, as if the ‘n’ is silent.
You’ll frequently read that ’nduja is pronounced ‘en-doo-ya’, just to make sure that you don’t make the mistake of pronouncing that ‘j’. But it’s worth noting that once again, depending on the Calabrian dialect being spoken, that ‘j’ might be very much pronounced.
My notebook from our guidebook research trip has a note beside a list of Calabrian specialties that ’nduja had been pronounced ‘dooj-ah’ by the woman I chatted to at a stall selling ‘salumi Calabrese’ – cured meats, sausages (salsiccia) and salami such as soppressata di Calabria, all handmade locally – at a morning market in seaside Diamante.
Why Is Everyone Talking About ’Nduja Again?
Nduja was named one of 2021’s trending ingredients by the UK supermarket Waitrose’s food magazine, although I have no idea how much influence that publication has, while The Weekend Australian Magazine’s newspaper’s food writer John Lethlean published a piece in mid-March this year called Nduja: this Spicy Calabrian Salami’s Fame is Spreading.
“Ten years ago we couldn’t even pronounce the word ’nduja (“Undo ya,” more or less),” Lethlean writes. Speak for yourself, John. “Now this Calabrian “salami” is in the larder of every self-respecting chef and home cook in the nation. How did that happen?” And how did it happen? This isn’t the first time that ’nduja has trended outside Italy.
’Nduja first started to appear in dishes at good restaurants outside Italy back in 2006 in London, when Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei became the first chef to put the proper stuff, ’nduja imported from Calabria, on his menu. Until then “no-one had heard of it,” he told restaurant critic Richard Vines, so he had to put a note on the menu explaining what it was.
Three years later, across the pond in the USA, Julia Moskin wrote in a New York Times piece called A Dollop of Salami, Spreading From Calabria about the underground producers and chefs in the USA, such as Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco, who were making their own ’nduja because the Calabrian paste could not be imported into the United States unless it was pasteurised.
Moskin writes how “in 2009, nduja was the spicy underground taste that went mass market, making it the Lady Gaga of pork products. If nduja didn’t already exist, it might have been invented in a lab as the perfect food trend: it combines nose-to-tail eating, pork, smoke and chili heat.” She noted that it had been called “flaming liquid salami”, “spicy pork butter” and “the spreadable Italian love child of pepperoni and French rillettes”.
Three months later, down in Australia, restaurant reviewer Terry Durack noted in an early 2010 review of Italian & Sons restaurant in Canberra that the affettati platter of cured meats included “the ‘nduja (pronounced endooya), a warm spreadable paste of chilli-spiked Calabrian salami, which is an over-the-top, spicy, oily treat”. Not imported from Calabria, but produced by Sydney’s Quattro Stelle.
By 2015, ’nduja was getting used in restaurant kitchens all over the world, and not just Italian, but kitchens as diverse as that of British chef Jason Atherton in the UK and April Bloomfield at The Spotted Pig in the USA. British retailer Marks & Spencer, whose Calabrian-made Spicy Nduja and Tomato Pasta Sauce was “flying off the shelf”, called nduja the “ingredient of the moment”.
Italian Food magazine proclaimed 2016 the Year of ‘Nduja and stories quickly followed everywhere from The Independent in the UK on The Poor Italian Peasant Sausage Conquered British Restaurants to the USA’s Bloomberg site on What is Nduja and Why is it Suddenly on Every Menu? Downunder, Australia Gourmet Traveller published a piece on What is Nduja and How Should You Use It? So how do you use ’nduja?
How to Use ’Nduja
Calabrians love to spread ’nduja on bread or toast, either fresh or warmed up, on its own or with cheese, and I have to confess to being very satisfied with a thick spread of the spicy sausage paste on a slice of Terence’s toasted sourdough, sprinkled with finely chopped fresh spring onions or young basil leaves (pictured above).
But ’nduja can also be served alongside your favourite cured meats and cheeses on a charcuterie board or cheese board if you’re entertaining. You can also add some nduja to an omelette or scrambled eggs, an eggs dish such as Terence’s Calabrian take on eggs in purgatory, an Italian salad, or your favourite tomato-based pasta sauce.
Over the next few weeks – or as long as our precious Calabrian sausage paste lasts! – Terence is going to be sharing some of our favourite ’nduja recipes. As Terence publishes his recipes, we’ll tell you more about how you can use nduja and add links here.
So far we’ve published Terence’s take on Australian chef Christine Manfield’s eggplant ‘sandwich’ with ’nduja (instead of basil pesto), a recipe for ’nduja pizza made in a Dutch oven, an easy ’nduja bruschetta recipe with goat’s cheese and sweet red capsicum, and ’nduja pasta.
Where to Buy ’Nduja
The best place to buy ’nduja is at its source in Calabria, where it’s actually called ’nduja di Spilinga or ’nduja of Spilinga. In the southwest of the Southern Italian region of Calabria, the small village of Spilinga is the birthplace of ’nduja and remains the centre of production.
It’s said every family in Spilinga is somehow involved in the production of ’nduja, even if that means simply owning a few pigs, so you won’t have to go far to find somewhere to buy your spicy sausage paste – vacuum-packed for travellers – or in a jar.
Sleepy Spilinga sits on a plateau in the Calabrian province of Vibo Valentia, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. If you imagine Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, Spilinga sits on top of the big toe. While there are a few historic sights to see, there’s not enough to hold you here for a night.
Spilinga is not far from the more atmospheric hilltop town of Nicotera, where we stayed in an elegant albeit empty former palace (we were there off-season) with gorgeous gardens and sweeping views of the countryside out to sea, and headed down to the livelier beachside lower town of Marina di Nicotera, in the foothills, for dinner.
Every restaurant, bar and shop in Marina di Nicotera seemed to sell ’nduja, as did delicatessens, supermarkets and gourmet food shops in every town and city across Calabria, especially tourist destinations, such as Tropea and Pizzo. If you’re not getting to Calabria on your next Italy trip, head to the finest salumeria you can find in Italian cities such as Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, Modena, etc, and you should find yourself some ’nduja.
Outside Italy, make a beeline to your nearest Italian neighbourhood or best Italian delicatessen. If they don’t have nduja they may be able to order some for you. While you’ll find excellent ’nduja producers in Australia, the UK and USA, as delicious as they may be, they will never taste the same as the spicy Calabrian sausage paste.
Thankfully, you can also buy ’nduja online, including on Amazon.