‘Nduja from the Underground Food Collective

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When ‘nduja (en-DOO-ya) was first explained to us about a month ago, it was described as “spreadable pepperoni.” (We missed The New York Times-spurred mini-craze for the stuff in 2009; they summed up the soft, spicy sausage as “red Nutella.”) Although ‘nduja is of Calabrian origin, the name is derived from the French andouille sausage. Its slow-to-build but assertive  kick of heat comes from roasted hot peppers.

If you’re a true lover of food, the proposition is exciting: all that spicy sausage kick, in a paste that can be spread on bread or used to build deep, powerful pasta sauces. “Spread it on a toasted bagel with some cream cheese — legit,” writes Underground Food Collective partner Garin Fons, suggesting another use. The Madison-based UFC made the ‘nduja we sampled recently, and they seem to have their heads around other creative ways to use the stuff: “Also, pull off a piece and throw it in the base of a frying pan; scrambled eggs never tasted better,” Fons adds. “Similarly, omelets need filling and we’re experimenting with ‘nduja-stuffed croissants.”

Locally, ‘nduja pops up at Bar La Grassa, where it’s served as an ‘Nduja Egg Raviolo. Our UFC package of spreadable sausage cost about $5 for three ounces — the group was selling product at the Wisconsin Cheese Originals show and sampling ‘nduja for guests.

“We started making ‘nduja a little over a year ago after we began producing test batches of items for our nascent meat business, Underground Meats,” writes Fons. “We were aware of a few people around the country making the product and also recalled the NYT article, but inspiration largely came from the need to produce a product from what would have normally gone to waste.”

“Our ‘nduja is a 30:30:30 mix of spices, pork, and pork fat,” says Fons. “The extra 10 percent is reserved for the salts, additional spices, wine, oils, and curing agents. We emulsify it, stuff it, place it in the greening room or sometimes smoke it using local hardwoods, and then hang it in the cure room for a minimum of 5 weeks.”

‘Nduja was smart choice for a UFC sample at the Originals show — it grabbed our attention. Its creamy texture is unexpected for a sausage product, and its taste — funky, spicy, almost wine-y — is complex and wonderful when paired with a simple baguette. UFC, which has thrown itself into charcuterie since a fire consumed its restaurant, knows their meat.

If you’re looking for ‘nduja, your best bet at the moment is to hit Bar La Grassa or to reach out to the UFC next time you’re in Madison. They hope to offer it for retail on their site, and it should stick around for a while: Fons notes, “when we first started making it we thought it would be a limited-run item. Currently, it’s one of our most popular products.”

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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