- Mike Sula
- Ndujas three: clockwise from left, PQM, La Quercia, ‘Nduja Artisans
You know how was I saying that lately it’s gotten a lot easier to meat people? That is, it’s easier to grind, cure, ferment, and sell your own sausage. It used to be if you wanted to buy nduja, the spicy, spreadable, near-mythical Calabrian “red Nutella,” you practically had to smuggle it into town. Today there’s a total of three locally produced (sort of) ndujas on the market, each one different and special in its own way.
- Nduja Artisans
- Nduja Artisans’ curing room
First, Nduja Artisans is a new project from the family that owns Harlem Avenue’s Ristorante Agostino. Tony Fiasche’s 84-year-old grandparents still make it back in the old country, but now Fiasche (who used to cook for private events at Publican Quality Meats) and his father, Agostino, are producing it in a USDA-licensed factory in near-west-suburban Franklin Park. They’re grinding it with back fat, trim, and picnic shoulder and using imported Calabrian chiles, and they hang the artificially cased chubs for about three weeks to cure, which gives their nduja a nice tanginess (they’re also working on a natural casing variant that ages for ten to 12 weeks). This one almost burns your retinas to gaze upon, and it leaves its red calling card on everything it touches. It’s highly emulsified, the most spreadable of the three, but suspended with tangible chile flakes, which give it a sort of pleasant chewiness. If you like it spicy, this is the one for you. You can search for it among the forest of salumi at Eataly, where it sells for $27.80 a pound, or you could go to Publican Quality Meats, where they have it for $25 per chub, or $13 for a half.
Speaking of PQM, they make ndjua there too. You can see by the coloration that it’s not as spicy as ‘Nduja Artisans’, but it’s nothing to sniff at. Dense and meaty, it’s a little less spreadable, almost sliceable. It’s my least favorite of the trio, but it isn’t bad at all.
Finally, the folks behind Norwalk, Iowa’s great La Quercia, makers of the finest prosciutto, guanciale, and lardo in the land, have released their own unusual nduja, made from their already cured prosciutto trim and speck, which imparts a deep smokiness. You could argue that it really isn’t nduja, but while you’re doing that I’m going to pack it in your open mouth until you shush. Of the three, this is the one in which the character of the all-natural pig really stands out—you can tell you’re chewing animal muscle. The heat is relatively tame; still, seasoned with organic domestic chile peppers and paprika, this nduja also achieves the clearest balance of spice and meat. Eataly has it for $29.80 a pound, but I’d rather go to J.P. Graziano and ask Jim to cut it to my specs at $26 per pound.
And if these three are too hot for you, you can still spread sausage with West Loop Salumi’s ciaosculo.