My Citizens! It is a definitive declaration indeed to note that the Hetman of the Handheld, YOUR TFD, has a deep, pure and perfect love for all in-hand food items – none more so than the mighty sandwich! Add in a truly unique sausage patty, all the trimmings of Italian-American heated sandwich provenance and serve it up on ciabatta bread and you have the mighty Cudighi sandwich beloved by Yoopers throughout the U.P.!
You are probably wondering if I am off my meds given the Babel-like nature of My previous sentence, but FEAR NOT – I merely refer to the hardy and obdurate residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or U.P. – aka the part of Michigan above the Mackinaw bridge). People who live in the region refer to themselves as ‘Yoopers’ – onomatopoeia for “U.P.’ers”. Many Yoopers are in fact descended from Italian immigrants who came to Michigan in the 19th century to work in the iron mines. This is THEIR sandwich – and now, it is YOURS! 🙂
Cudighi is a spicy Italian sausage seasoned with sweet spices that can be bought in links or served as a sandwich on a long roll, often with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Although originating in Italy, it is now primarily served in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the United States. Cudighi can be served many ways in many Italian-American dishes. Typically served with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, additional toppings may include mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.
The taste of Cudighi varies with the amount of clove and cinnamon present in the sausage mix, these spices being a defining flavor for the patty along with sweet wine. Cudighi originated in Northern Italy, although it is now primarily served in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, particularly in Marquette County. The sandwich and its distinctive sausage were first sold in northern Michigan by Italian immigrants in 1936, who called it Gudighi and became popular following World War II.
As intrinsically a Yooper dish as their famous pasties, Cudighi seems to be derived from Cotechino – a Northern Italian fresh sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind. The modern recipe for what is known as Cudighi is likely highly specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
As noted in this article from UpperMichiganSource.com:
ISHPEMING — The cudighi has become a staple in the Yooper diet. The construction is simple. Homemade Italian sausage is flattened into a patty and grilled. It is commonly served with melted mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce, but every restaurant has their unique version.
“The basic cudighi has marinara sauce and cheese on French bread and then we have the works, which has mushrooms, green peppers, onions, marinara sauce and the cheese” said Robert Caron, co-owner of Vangos restaurant in Marquette. “Then you have to have that with some waffle fries.”
Vangos has been serving cudighi for 50 years.
“We grind the meat fresh daily and make each batch every day, so it is as fresh as can be and we use the best possible ingredients to make the best cudighi sandwich” said Caron.”
Ralph’s Italian Deli in Ishpeming has sold their secret family recipe since the 1960s.
“The more popular ways are with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and onions” said Dominic Gervasi, co-owner of Ralph’s Italian Deli. “A lot of people like ketchup, mustard, onions and mozzarella cheese combination. Also we serve fresh, homemade buns. We make the bread every day. The bun is very important, that has always been 50-percent of it.”
Italian immigrants started making them in Ishpeming and the sandwich’s popularity grew from there across the Upper Peninsula.
“It is a tradition” said Caron. “It is something that you grow up with. It is just a great sandwich and just a little taste of home.”
“The biggest evolvement I have seen is just the number of people and businesses that have gotten into making them and selling them, because it is just like pizza, almost any restaurant makes a pizza now anywhere you go” said Gervasi.
Both restaurants agree that what makes their cudighi sandwiches so good is fresh, high quality ingredients and consistency.
“It is always the same” said Caron. “It is always the same, just a great sandwich.”
Gastro Obscura has a few additional things to say on the history of this mighty sandwich!
Around the turn of the 20th century, Italians sought mining jobs along the southern edge of Lake Superior, in Marquette County. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, one immigrant’s sausage stand changed the culinary landscape. He set up shop between his family’s barbershop and a local watering hole in 1936, selling homemade sausage sandwiches dressed with chopped onions, ketchup, and mustard.
He called the meat gudighi and kept the recipe’s spices under wraps. After World War II, his son opened an establishment that offered the same sausage on a sandwich reflective of American food trends—namely, pizza and burgers. He flattened the sausage meat into a patty, fried it on a flat-top stove, and served it topped with pizza sauce (marinara) and mozzarella on a bread roll.
Before long, competitors in the county towns of Ishpeming, Negaunee, and Marquette all took to what eventually came to be known as “cudighi” and began producing their own versions. Today, local pizza joints, pasty shops, delis, and restaurants still advertise the creation. Butchers and grocers make everything from turkey-based cudighi to packaged cudighi spice mixes.
Families buy links and loose meat to use as a pizza topping, meatball base, or pasta sauce ingredient. No longer a secret, recipes for cudighi instruct home cooks to season ground pork shoulder with red wine, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Garlic, black pepper, allspice, and red pepper flakes round out the flavor, but no hint of fennel—the most popular Italian sausage additive—appears on the ingredient list.
This is a great video from a local MI news station about the sandwich – it also emphasizes that even ‘downstate’ residents (the mitten part of the state) are unfamiliar with this micro-local treat! Given that I have been given a Don-Quixote-like purpose to bring the light of gastronomic knowledge to a world embraced by ‘fast food’ darkness, I am very proud indeed to share My hard-won knowledge with all of TFD Nation!
As mentioned in the video, there is no canonical fashion to making or serving a Cudighi – making it ripe for interpretation by the Imperator of Improvisation Himself! Now, to the heart of the matter – the sausage itself – I prefer to make my Cudighi patty from a combination of pork and venison! Yes, some people do serve a version like this, as most Yoopers are avid hunters! I also enjoy the rich flavor added by venison in tandem with the ground pork and the pork adds much-needed fat for the sausage.
You can easily buy top-quality ground venison (if you’re lacking a recently-bagged deer in your freezer!) from this source – if you prefer to keep Bambi out of your sandwich, you can just use regular ground pork. I of course prefer the venison version for the added flavor it brings – especially if you use only ground pork (and even if you don’t!), please try to use a top-quality heirloom breed of ground pork. I personally prefer ground Mangalitsa pork, for its unsurpassed fat content and flavor (you can buy it here).
For the seasoning profile, I have kept it classic – relying on sweet Marsala wine and Ceylon Cinnamon (buy a top-quality brand from here) as well as other apropos herbs and spices in My proportions that form the mystic essence of My spicing sorcery! In addition to the classic herbs and spices (plus My own), I also use some ground Juniper berries to complement the venison. The sandwich – IMHO – should only be served on ciabatta bread and I strongly encourage you to abide by My counsel here!
Citizens – this is a hyper-regional sandwich of the kind I am indeed most partial to – for those of you fortunate enough to have visited the U.P. (or lucky enough to live there!), I have every imaginable confidence you will be immediately brought back to relive your memories of a place equally blessed by beauty and bounty alike and inhabited by the hearty folk known proudly as Yoopers! 🙂
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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