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Salama da sugo

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This medieval Italian sausage from Ferrara nearly made me pass out.

Those who enjoy laws and sausages should not see how they are made, said Otto von Bismarck. I head this at a dinner last night and wished they had told me before.

A couple week ago, I met this man from Calabria at the Slow Food Fair in Torino. He sold large sausages not unlike the Swiss Jesus, but with a dark, dusty exterior. The salama da sugo [sahlahmah dah soogaw] has been made in Ferrara since the Middle Ages and is a cult dish in this town. It does not sell well outside of Ferrara though.

What's in it? I asked like Jack the Lad. They looked at each other, embarassed, and I immediately regretted my question. You like tongue? the man asked. I nodded mechanically. Ah, well then there is tongue inside. You like lungs? he continued. I didn't move. He looked resigned. Well there is not so much lungs inside. We also put spices and a loooot of wine. Finally the sausage looked so intriguing, I decided to buy one.

Back home, I hanged it to a hook and researched the salama da sugo.

Do you crumble it in a tomato sauce to make some ragù to serve with pasta, I asked the guy. He looked very seriously and answered. Not at all. This is not salciccia fresca. This is an ancient product of noble descent. It is mentionned since the 15th century and part of the court cusine of Ferrara.

He started explaining how to prepare that mighty sausage. The night before, soak it in water and leave it overnight. I plunged the sausage in a Kuhn Rikon pot.

On the next day, remove the sausage, wash it and throw the water.

He gave me a transparent plastic bag. Take this and wrap the sausage in it so you won't lose any of its precious flavors, he said.

I tied the packet to the side of my pot...

... then placed it on the burner.

Cook it for 5 hours in boiling water. 5 hours, no more, no less.

Next page the potato purée and the cooked sausage.

Salama da sugo is eaten with puré di patate, not with pasta, the man said. He was not joking, in Italy tradition is more sacred than rules are in Germany. The next day, I boiled some starchy potatoes with their skins on...

... then asked a guest to peel my potatoes. You need to do this while they are still hot, I said, looking busy at the other side of the kitchen.

Mash the potatoes ...

... then add some cream ...

... and some butter ...

... and nutmeg. Mix until smooth and add salt as needed.

As I removed the sausage and its plastic bag, kindly supplied by the artisan butcher, I realized that an amber fluid had escape from the sausage. Then I recalled Keep the salsetta that will escape and serve it with the meat, he had said. Well, my sausage was not very clean even after the soaking and the little sauce (salsetta) had just simmered for 5 hours with the mean-looking grayish sausage.

I dumped the salsetta, extracted the sausage and started peeling it.

The meat was surprinsingly firm after such a long cooking, with a mouth reminding me of a sea anemone.

As I sliced the sausage open, I nearly passed out with the smell.

I served it on the purée and ate my sausage like a child given a bowl of bitter vegetables. As I closed my eyes, images of dark tannery pits flashed before me.

The truly fearless reader can buy his own salama da sugo at Fienilone by Menarbin Ranieri (igor87mena@alice.it +33 0532 449315 in Cona, province of Ferrara, Italy)



Similar to our Saucisson or Boutefas... That Salma Da Sugo looks terribly scrumptious! I could just eat that wonderful meal now!


  • FX's answer→ Rosa, this is not really like Boutefas, the taste is really seriously strong, like if you had forgotten the sausage some time during the Middle Ages and tried it today!

  • #3
  • Comment by Saxit
You didn't like the sausage I take it? :)
How safe is it to cook something in plastic like that for five hours? I'm thinking of carcinogenic substances and so on...

Also, where did you find that terrific nutmeg grinder? I need one! :)
  • FX's answer→ Saxit, I wouldn't worry too much about the bag, it is one used for collective food preparation and designed for long cooking. What's in the sausage might worry you more!
    Glad you noticed the nutmeg grinder, it is designed by Peugeot and you can order it online in many places. Very convenient, and God knows how many nutmeg grinders I've tried.

What a wonderful story. How did it taste though?!
  • FX's answer→ Alex, it did taste rather putrid, but so would cider, beer, wine, blue cheese and dozens of other foods that are acquired tastes. I don't meant to offend the people of Ferrara to whom this is sacred slow food, but don't expect a Frankfurter-bland taste.

  • #7
  • Comment by Will
FX that looks great but you are a heart attack waiting to happen!!!
  • FX's answer→ Will, give the efforts that went into cooking this sausage in comparison with the small quantities I ate of it, I definitely made a loss in the calorie bank on this one.

  • #9
  • Comment by Laura
It looks good, but I take it did not taste so good? Please elaborate a bit! What did it smell like? Tell us more!
And the plastic bags, they are probably some of those special bags that are heat resistant and can be used to marinate and then bake meat (wonderfully tender meat when its done!). Here in Denmark you can find it in the supermarket in the aisle where disposable aluminum trays and such are.
  • FX's answer→ Laura, I confirm this was a special, made-to-be-cooked, plastic bag. The taste really reminded me with a visit of a tannery. Funny how the mind associates things, hey?

  • #11
  • Comment by Wandering Taoist
Oooh, lovely, it reminds me I haven't been to Italy this year, which makes me sad. I always like to go around and try these specialties, however off-putting they might seem. Do you have any other clues as to how is it made? I am especially interested in whether it is smoked or dried in hot air (or perhaps by a mold)? Is it fatty or more lean? Predominantly offal or meaty? The public demands to know :-) Looks not too fat and with a lot of meat, perhaps from the tongues you mentioned.

Lovely pictures, made me salivate despite your writing :-)
  • FX's answer→ It is made with offal, wine and spices, not hugely fatty for such a sausage, and it is dried although I have read there were some smoked versions. Really strong taste, I must say I was a bit disappointed with the long work and meager results. When this happens I always feel down ... for about 10 minutes!

No thanks.  You are braver than I am to even purchase it.  On a positive note...your mashed potatoes look "smashing"!
  • FX's answer→ The potatoes were really fine, I actually ended up eating them the next day with a sweet potato and date curry. A highly unorthodox mix but just what I needed!

  • #15
  • Comment by leila karlslund
Shit happens dear Francois.
  • #16
  • Comment by Angelo
Francois, would you describe the "sausage" (...with all due respect, it hardly fits the desription of sausage...I'd describe it more as a fermented ball of guts and gristle...) taste-wise?

I mean, is it like...uhm...like fermented shark like they serve in Norway? Kind of like ammonia with a fishy-cheesy taste?

It looks nasty but I am consumed with curiosity as to how it tastes.

  • FX's answer→ Ammonia, lots of it. And then the nagging thought of what they used to make it. A very strange texture, not crumbly but more like boiled straw.

Well, you win! That sausage should be added to that famous internet list circulating - the one with the 100 things to try. I might try it, but I think the wife would divorce me if I cooked that bad boy in the house. It almost reminds me of haggis.

You said that you almost passed out from the smell. What I do not know is how it tasted after. Given that you eat with your nose and eyes, I imagine that you will not be preparing that course anytime soon?
  • FX's answer→ I think if your wife eats haggis, then this one might be for her. Same time of ingredients with fat instead of oats.

Dear FX, just to give me a calibration on your tastes in re cooked sausage-like Italian food, have you tried cotechino or zampone?
  • FX's answer→ Walter I haven't tried those but one more like this and I turn vegetarian!

  • #22
  • Comment by Laura
Ugh. It looks and sounds disgusting! I am put off sausages for awhile now. Thank you. Vegetables sound so appealing and clean  right now. I can see it is an acquired taste, and if I ever got to that region of Italy I will avoid it like the plague.
  • FX's answer→ Laura, in Emilia Romagna you will find many other opportunities to feed yourself scrumptiously!

  • #24
  • Comment by NN
Ha ha, this is great. It reminds me of when a Dutch friend of mine was explaining the making of wurst to his daughter: "dey only use brainsh and ballsh, my dear". In any case, you really need to give up the recipe for that sweet potato and date curry!
  • FX's answer→ Nathan, the curry is a worthier dish than cursed medieval sausages, no doubt here!

  • #26
  • Comment by Meramarina
Maybe you need some kind of Medic-Alert button in your kitchen, for safety's sake--I'm sure that none of us out here in readerland want to hear that you'd been done in by an Extreme Sausage Kitchen Stench Calamity!

Did you serve this unsavory sausage to any guests, and if so, what did they think?
  • FX's answer→ Meramarina, if I had really served this to my guests, they might have said at the end of the meal that "When it first arrived on the table, I thought it was shit. But by the end of the meal, I regretted it wasn't." Just joking!

So wait, was it good?  You didn't say...
  • FX's answer→ Not very good I'm afraid.

  • #30
  • Comment by Jessica
FX-Wonderful comments.  I laughed so hard about it tasting like it had been left from the middle ages.  Good for you though on trying something different.  I can only imagine what your place smelled like after cooking it for so long, especially with the "unique" taste.  Oh and I LOVED the ominous looking hook in all of the pictures too..as though the whole thing was right out of a horror movie.  
  • FX's answer→ Jessica, yes I had to look for a good while to find this nice hook, very handy for still lifes! The smell was Ok since the salama was covered in its own skink, in a closed plastic bag, under water and in a covered pot. This is what it takes, short of a hazmat box, to keep the smell contained.

  • #32
  • Comment by Steve
Medieval tastes are generally not to our own. Since the time of Hippocratic, it was believed disease was caused by excess humors (moist, hot, cold or dry) for which food could correct. Seasonings in particular could adjust a foods properties to make it more wholesome, or in our view, "nutritious". Thus it gave rise to the notion that fine cooking "fused many layers of flavors into a single, unitarian whole, rendering individual ingredients unidentifiable.." (from 'A Revolution in Taste'). In other words, if one can identify individual ingredients in a recipe by smelling them, than the mixture either has to cook longer or more spice added. This all changed in France in the 17th century when it was believed the natural taste of the food being eaten should be pronounced, and thus began the rise of modern cooking.

I don't know what the sausage tasted like, but it sounds like it didn't taste like sausage, which is exactly the height of medieval cooking!
  • FX's answer→ Steve, very interesting book you mention, thanks for the reference! There are 1001 sausages in Europe and they all taste different.

Wonderful adventure, reminds me of when some friends and I went on an exotic sushi tasting adventure. Everything was great up to the Sea Urchin. I love oysters, clams, squid and eel. Sea Urchin I found to be a rather putrid experience. You win some, and loose some, c'est la vie!
  • FX's answer→ Geoff, I'd definitely have a sea urchin over that bloody sausage, but the sear urchin has a stronger taste.

  • #36
  • Comment by Lynn
Hi Xavier--

As a vegetarian, I really enjoyed reading about this horrendous sausage! This was one of your funniest postings yet.  The hook was highly photogenic, and even though you were writing about a rather unsuccessful food experience, the photography was beautiful.  The photo of steam rising from the boiled potatoes was excuisite.  Did you make up this expression, "When it first arrived on the table, I thought it was shit. But by the end of the meal, I regretted it wasn't."?  Very funny.

I've just come from a lovely American Thanksgiving feast with no medieval dishes at all.. yum.

  • FX's answer→ Lynn, I am glad the rather failed gastronomic experiences made for a fun read nonetheless! In fact I borrowed this line from an old LP record we used to listen at Christmas time decades ago, about a Frenchman describing the first time he ate Haggis. "Lorsque le haggis est arrivé sur la table, j'ai cru que c'était de la merde. A la fin du repas, j'ai regretté que ce n'en fût pas."

  • #38
  • Comment by Stop
This read almost like a crime novel... I am glad you survived... LOL
  • #39
  • Comment by Ouroboros
Definitely looks like it could use a day in the smoker.  Kinda reminds me of raw andouille, from the looks of it.

  • FX's answer→ Ouroboros, not really, andouille is a pipe filled with lesser pipes, all of them reeking of piss and whatever refuse flowed through their body during their life. The inside is pretty loose and the sausage is not seasoned for as long as the dreaded Salama da Sugo.

You said:  "As I sliced the sausage open, I nearly passed out with the smell."

In a good way or a bad way?  Does this sausage smell ... offensive?  like Durian?  (Which people still eat, even if they can't stand the smell.)

Smelling foul cheese doesn't stop us from eating it!

Sounds like the preparation of this sausage is a true labor of love.

<3 Chiffy
  • FX's answer→ Chiffonade, I nearly passed out so that I could escape the infernal stench. Didn't go straight to heaven on that one!

  • #43
  • Comment by John-Christopher
I've never found any lungs -- sheep, beef or pig-- to try. I presume the the salsetta was too revolting to sample, but I wonder if it might have improved the sausage.
  • FX's answer→ I doubt it as I failed to clean the sausage properly and the sausage molds infused for 5 hours in said salsetta...

  • #45
  • Comment by Ore
Great site and excellent post - I spent a few months making salumi in northern Italy and this was a very well made artisinal product.  
  • FX's answer→ Thank you Ore, glad you liked the article!

  • #47
  • Comment by Michael
Goodness, looking at that picture of the cooked sausage hanging from the hook, all I could think of was: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." Although based on your reactions, perhaps it should be "Abandon all hope ye who serve here"?

Regardless, phenomenal article and pictures, as always!
  • FX's answer→ Michael, how about "Abandon all hope, ye who know how sausages are really made" ?

Madonna boschi e’ un piccolo paese di 300 anime incastonato fra i comuni di Poggio Renatico e Vigarano Mainarda nella provincia di Ferrara, in Emilia Romagna.
Madonna boschi è ricordata principalmente per un prodotto culinario tipico della provincia di Ferrara: la Salamina da Sugo legittimato da suo monumento alla salamina da sugo alle porte del paese.
La salamina da Sugo, è la vera regina della tavola dei ferraresi.
Prodotto dai locali norcini della Pro Loco (tutti volontari), nei propri laboratori e stagionati in locali idonei rispettando le norme vigenti e le tradizioni, la salamina da sugo è un  insaccato di carni povere del maiale quali capocollo, guanciale, pancetta, lingua, fegato,sunia, sapientemente dosati in parti dovute, aromi naturali, vino corposo ma giovane, prima che lo mettessero fuori legge il “nostro” famoso Clinto era l’ideale per le nostre salamina (i nostri vecchi sono campati duemila anni bevendolo ma…..). Il tutto, lungamente mescolato insieme ad amalgamarsi per bene fino all’insaccamento nella vescica del maiale, questa accuratamente pulita e lavata in acqua tiepida, aceto e vino. Chiusa legandola molto bene in cima, viene poi legata a spicchi di 6/8/10/12, nei quali se ne individuano le varie scuole di pensiero dei vari norcini. Dopo la sgocciolatura di una notte, vengono messe a stagionare minimo per 8 mesi, ma se uno vuole assaggiare una vera salamina da sugo deve “penare” almeno sino al decimo/undicesimo mese di stagionatura.
Per vedere se la Salamina da Sugo non ha anomalie bisogna “piombarla” in un recipiente d’acqua, affinché ci si renda conto che, se il prodotto è sano, questo piomba giù, se il prodotto rimane a galla, ha dei problemi. Questa è una fase molto importante.
Constatato che il prodotto è valido, bisogna lasciare la Salamina da Sugo a bagno per 8/10 ore, dopo di chè la si spazzola delicatamente dalle impurità sotto l’acqua. Avvolta in un canovaccio la si appende diritta legata a un bastoncino di traverso ad una  pentola capiente piena d’acqua e la si lascia bollire delicatamente  dalle 4 o 7 ore a seconda della tipicità della salamina. Al giorno d’oggi molti usano il più pratico sacchetto di cottura per alimenti.
Una volta cotta la si posizione su l’apposito piatto rotondo con la propria sede al centro. La si scoperchia in cima. Subito vi accorgerete di un odore intenso e fragrante che solo la salamina da sugo può regalarvi.
Viene servita con un purè di patate. Il tutto molto caldo.
La salamina da sugo la si può mangiare anche cruda con fichi o melone, cotta affettata e fredda. La Pro Loco di Madonna Boschi della Salamina da Sugo produce in proprio le Salamina da sugo in ambienti idonei rispettando le norme vigenti e le tradizioni.
A Madonna Boschi le manifestazioni sono gestite principalmente dalla Pro Loco, che organizza le manifestazioni più importanti:
· la Sagra della Fiera delle Galanine a luglio, ultime due fine settimana di luglio
· la “Sagra della Salamina da Sugo al Cucchiaio”  fine settembre-inizio ottobre,           

17/18/19 - 24//25/26 LUGLIO 2009  
Stand gastronomico con l'anteprima della degustazione della salamina da sugo di madonna boschi. Specialita' pesce povero dei nostri mari. Manifestazioni sportive e culturali. Tutte le sere musica
Orario: 19,30 - 23,00


18/19/20 - 25/26/27  Settembre 2009
02/03/04 - 09/10/11 Ottobre 2009

Degustazione della Salamina da Sugo al Cucchiaio di Madonna Boschi
Orari: VENERDI E SABATO 19,15 - 22,30.

Menù degustazione:
Carpaccio di Salamina all’Aceto Balsamico e Grana, Gran Trittico di Salamina da Sugo, Garganelli alla Salamina da Sugo, Lasagne al forno con Zucca, Salamina da Sugo a cucchiaio intera con purè, Cima di Salamina con pure’ di patate.
Crostini di Cinghiale, Tagliatelle del Sottobosco con Cinghiale, Cinghiale alla toscana con Polenta, Funghi Trifolati

Info: Pro Loco Madonna Boschi della Salamina da Sugo
         MADONNA BOSCHI (FE) 44028
         Tel 3407095358

  • FX's answer→ Riccardo, un giorno ti vado a visitare per vedere come si fabbrica la salama da sugo ferrarese!

  • #51
  • Comment by Diane Pedrazzoli
You are amazing !!!! Fantastic story, recepe, it's clear, it's enjoying ! Thank you for sheering this with us.
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Diane, that sausage really left me imperishable memories!

  • #53
  • Comment by chiara
hi i'm from ferrara and my mouth is watering at your pictures and desriptions.. mmmm. we eat this every year in my family- usually on xmas day at lunchtime (it's a heavy dish so you wouldn't want to eat it on xmas eve and then go to bed - xmas eve is the big xmas meal with all the family here).

but.. while i applaud you for the heroic effort of cooking it the old fashioned way.. you know you can buy it in any supermarket in ferrara precooked and it tastes just as good - or you can (in season) even buy it in slices if you only want a little bit.   

we let the other people do the hard work of cooking.. we just enjoy the flavor - imagine meat with a spicy chew  texture. strong taste, you don't eat more than a slice usually - slice is about 4-5- inches across.

my parents and grandparents had a farm outside the city walls, and each year when i was small (i'm 60 now) the farmers who looked after the land would bring one of these at xmas to us - cooked and made the traditional way. one year we decided to try the 'new fangled' precooked ones available in the supermarket. my grandfather, who was highly skeptical, could not tell which was which.

a note on the use of spices - i was told used in medieval times to hide the flavor of meat that had spoiled, or to preserve meat (remember no fridges), or to show you had money, since spices like pepper and nutmeg had to come from asia and therefore were expensive. the rulers of ferrara were very rich (they had to build a castle to protect themselves from the people, because their taxes were so high many people wanted to revolt.. castle still stands) and commissioned major works of art - titian and so on. but also they had mega feasts, where they showed off their purchasing power by using costly spices., i don't know if this is why salama da sugo (and its sisters zampone- stuffed pigs leg from knee to foot) and cappello da prete (stuffed meat into shape of traingular priests hat shape) have spices, but even the ferrara famous cake - pampepato or pampapato (literally means peppered bread) has lots of pepper and nutmeg and cloves, as do pumpkin ravioli, another city dish. come and visit! we're half way between florence and venice (and 20 mins by train from bologna) so if you take the train between those cities you will pass through ferrara.  also try.. zabov.. an liqueur made here.. with eggs.

  • FX's answer→ Thanks Chiara for sharing these memories with us, I would very much like to visit Ferrara one day and love pumpkin pasta!

  • #55
  • Comment by curite
È molto strano che guardando le foto di questa ricetta ci sia la panna e il burro svizzero (preparazione della puera di patate), il Ticino (svizzera) abbimo anche noi il salame di testa, che è una variante del Salame di sugo, che bisogna fare cuocere almeno 5-6 ore e che si mangia con le patate (non necessariamente in puera)

Why cream and butter are from swizterland in a italian recipe?
  • FX's answer→ Raffaele, devi leggere la pagina "About" di FXcuisine.com, anch'io sono Svizzero, e la purée di patate si fa con del burro e della panna, non c'è bisogno di importarli dall'Italia.

I love your writing. This article made me guffaw! Ugh, I never want to encounter that beast of a sausage!

Frankie, blogAuthor of:


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