The cuisine of Alto Piemonte is a vibrant cauldron of succulent dishes, strong and full-bodied flavors, rich and opulent textures. Every dish, every traditional product, reminds of tables laden with food, with the crackling of the wood in the fireplace as background.
In fact, the local food and wine tradition has always winked at the colder seasons, anchored as it is to warm and captivating preparations: just think of Panissa (or Paniscia, depending on whether it is a Vercelli housewife or a host of Novara to prepare it) or the many second courses combined with creamy polenta. Under the “ingredients” of the famous Novara risotto, Paniscia (photo below) there is a very special salami that is now rarely tasted as a product in itself, especially in this season: the Salam d’la duja.
If the word “salam” automatically reminds the cold cut, the term “duja” is not immediately translated. The duja, in Piedmontese dialect, is a sort of amphora or jar in terracotta, in the past used as a container to preserve the prized sausage of the Novarese tradition, Vercelli and, in part, Biella. Inside this vase, now replaced by containers in food material, salami were left to rest, not in purity but covered with a copious layer of soft pork belly lard, also called “sugna“.
This unique technique is a direct expression of the climatic and environmental peculiarities that characterize the central-southern area of the Alto Piemonte area. The high humidity, due both to the nature of this geographical area and to the irrigations that have forged the plain over the centuries, making it a mosaic of rice fields, does not match well with the production of sausages, which require constant temperatures, fresh and dry climate. The rich animal insulation still manages to preserve the salami from sudden changes in humidity and temperature, keeping the product soft, tasty and saturated with aromas, whose concentration explodes in a characteristic and delicate pungent note.
To wrap the minced pork, we find the leg, shoulder, culatello, lard and pancetta, full-bodied red wine, mixed spices, garlic, salt and pepper. To make a casket, we have a beef casing. Soft to melt in the mouth, the Salam d’la duja is declared a Traditional Agricultural Product of the Piedmont Region in 2013, but its history digs into the past, perhaps even in the early Middle Ages. The dishes that see him as protagonist are mostly rich and mighty, first of all the aforementioned Paniscia, but also less known delicacies like the Masarà novarese, a unique and substantial range of rural tradition: onion browned in lard, salamini duja brown in the delicious sautéed, peeled tomatoes and potatoes to be simmered slowly in the tasty sauce. Much more simply, the salami was tasted accompanied by plenty of mashed potatoes.
Why not take advantage of a product so versatile and immune to the high humidity, typical of the Piedmontese plains summer, to create fresh and simple dishes, to be enjoyed as delicious aperitifs paired with excellent local wine?
Slice some rustic rye bread, toast it and spread it with a cream made with boiled Borlotti beans, a sort of high-altitude hummus prepared with another unmissable ingredient in Paniscia/Panissa, the Borlotti. Adding a decisive but sweet touch to our crostino, another queen, albeit little known, of the territory: the Bionda onion from Cureggio and Fontaneto, Slow Food Presidium. Stewe it and slightly caramelize it with a few drops of balsamic vinegar, we will then add a slice of Salam d’la duja, tasty and spicy at the right point to contrast the other soft flavors.
The traditional cuisine of Alto Piemonte is born of great inventiveness and adaptability and it’s well suited to be reinvented and rediscovered in its many variations. Surely you will be mouth-watering by now! You just have to try the Salam d’la duja in its most summery version, to enrich the aperitifs with a touch of tradition. Since, 1877, The Salumificio Romano Mainelli of Oleggio, a historical company registered in the homonymous register, offers unmissable culinary experiences, including this very particular cured meat, bulwark of the Alto Piemonte, its pivotal dishes, and its peculiar climate. You can find Romano Mainelli’s authentic salam d’la duja here.
Until the next time,