'nduja di Spilinga

What is ‘Nduja?

Not so long ago, ‘nduja was largely unknown outside Calabria. This delectable salami was local, in the Italian sense of the word, in a world where the other side of a mountain or the other end of a region would have its own specialties. But distances have become shorter and connections faster, so that this once obscure pork product from a village in Southern Italy has even made it to my computer’s dictionary… 


Southern Italy

In Spilinga, Calabria

‘Nduja hails from Spilinga, a village of about 1,500, located inland from Tropea, the popular seaside town on Calabria’s western coast in the Province of Vibo Valentia. Interestingly, the name Spilinga, which is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, derives from Greek meaning grotto. (More about Greeks in Calabria on my post Bova, Calabria: People, Language and Land.) And there are several grottos within its territory, most notably the sanctuary Madonna delle Fonti.

The origins of ‘nduja are not agreed upon. One theory is that it is of Spanish origin, a sausage brought to Calabria in the 16th century by the occupying Aragons, who also introduced peperoncino from the Americas. Others say it derives from the spicy French andouille sausage introduced by Joachim Murat during his brief rule of the Kingdom of Naples at the beginning of the 19th century.

These theories seem to be based on the name and the spiciness. However, the ‘nduja of Spilinga is nothing like any other salami or sausage I’ve ever tasted. The spilingesi may have borrowed the name, but as for the salami itself, the people of Spilinga are clearly the influencers! As for its pronunciation, the locals pronounce the “j” as the “s” in the English-word “vision.” The Italianized pronunciation of the “j” is “yuh.” And don’t let the apostrophe bother you. Dive in, as I recommend with a first taste of the ‘nduja itself.

Karen's Travel LLC

The author with ‘nduja and other salami on one of her Calabria tours


The ‘nduja started life as a component of what’s referred to as cucina povera, dishes with simple origins made with inexpensive, accessible ingredients to satisfy the needs of the poor. Lesser parts of the pig, such as the interiors, would have been used, but over time the recipe has changed, and the meat includes guanciale (cheek) and pancetta (bacon) with lard. The pork is chopped finely, mixed with a hefty dose of peperoncino, about 30%, a little salt, and stuffed in natural pork casings. They are then smoked for at least ten days

Wood in the smoke room

and cured from two to four months.

'Nduja di Spilinga

Curing ‘nduja salami

The recipe calls for local peperoncino from the spicy, sundried little peppers grown in the foothills of Mount Poro. The quantity not only gives ‘nduja its bright red color, but also gives the salami natural antiseptic and antioxidant properties, making additional preservatives unnecessary.

Of course, to obtain an optimal product, the meat must also be of a high quality from an adult pig raised on a natural diet with a weight of about 140-170 kilos.

Calabrian pig

Fattening up


Creamy, yes creamy! ‘Nduja has a smooth consistency with a spicy, powerful flavor. The peperoncino lends an intensity, but when sampling the real thing, not overwhelming so that the flavor of the meat shines through. Can you eat it with a spoon? Well, I wouldn’t, but when it’s really good, I enjoy spreading it rather thickly on a piece of bread. However, I suggest you start out more conservatively, especially if you’re outside Calabria.

'Nduja di Spilinga

Enjoying ‘nduja spread on fresh bread

Most often spread thinly on bruschette, ‘nduja can be found as a topping on pizza, as the basis for or as an ingredient in pasta sauces, as well as an enhancement of other dishes.

Calabria food

A scrumptious pasta with ‘nduja sauce

On appetizer tables, it is often served in a cute, terracotta heating dish called a scalda ‘nduja.

Dining in Calabria

Serving with a scalda ‘nduja

You can buy it vacuum sealed and in jars, and while it can be imported commercially into the United States, like other meats, you aren’t supposed to bring it through customs.


Now that you have been introduced to this delightfully piquant salami, you will see that the poor lexicographer who came up with the following definition for my computer’s dictionary undoubtedly didn’t sample an authentic Calabrian product: “a spicy paste prepared from cured pork and peppers, traditionally made in the Italian region of Calabria.” I can assure you that such a mundane “spicy paste” does not exist in the Città della ‘Nduja!

'Nduja di Spilinga

Serving ‘nduja in the Città della ‘Nduja

Spilinga takes its salami quite seriously and on August 8th celebrates its Sagra della ‘Nduja di Spilinga. This will be the 48th year of the festival. In addition to tastings, there’s music, dancing, and appearances by the always engaging Giganti. This grand celebration of local traditions is known as the Notte Rossa or Red Night.

Calabrian products

Appetizer plate in Spilinga

To protect their precious commodity, now known throughout the world, a consortium of spilingese producers is working to gain the European Union’s PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication) in order to safeguard and promote the ‘Nduja di Spilinga, also from a regulatory point of view for the benefit of both local producers and consumers worldwide.

Are you ready to taste ‘nduja? Join me on a CALABRIA TOUR – the incredible tastes and sights will leave you breathless!

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.Books about Southern Italy

Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook pageCalabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook pageKaren’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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Comments 4

  1. My friend Pasquale’s family makes its ‘nduja in a 50-70% pepper to pork ratio, and you would most definitely NOT eat a spoonful of it. My favorite way to consume ‘nduja [when I am in the Nocera area] is when you have about a dozen little gobs of it spaced about on a tuna and Tropea onion pizza bianco.

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      Interesting with the tuna… I often order the “pizza calabrese” that is tomato based with Tropea onions and ‘nduja.

  2. I don’t know if I can pronounce it correctly 😁 but I sure enjoyed sampling it a number of times on your tour with you, Karen! Delicious! I brought a little jar back with me, and everyone who tasted it loved it! Thinking about it brings me right back to Calabria and the lovely people I met on your tour! Til next time…

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