Rosario’s Butcher Shop is Spreading the Word About ’Nduja

Since opening his Montclair butcher shop in 2004, Rosario Barbalace has been dedicated to making the spicy, spreadable Calabrian salumi. Now local chefs are embracing it, too.

’Nduja spread on bread. Photo courtesy of Michele Barbalace.

Even with the abundance of Italian food in Jersey, gems still fly under the radar. Among them is ’nduja, a spreadable, spicy, utterly seductive Calabrian pork salumi. Lucky for North Jersey, or anyone hungry enough to travel, ’nduja is a specialty at Rosario’s Butcher Shop in Montclair.

“It’s pronounced ‘en-DOO-ya,’” Michele Barbalace patiently instructs. I ask her from the get-go so I don’t spend the entire interview getting it wrong. That would be extra embarrassing, considering her husband, the Rosario, was born and raised in Calabria. To the extent any spiced meat product can, ’nduja courses through his blood.

Rosario Barbalace came to the states 22 years ago. He opened his butcher shop in Montclair in 2004, but he’s been making ’nduja for even longer. “He’s been doing this with his father his whole life,” says his wife, Michele. “They’re southern Calabrian, where ’nduja is from.” ’Nduja specifically comes from Spilinga, a Calabrian village at the tip of the “boot” that loves its spicy spreadable meat so much, they hold an ’nduja festival every August.

Michele can’t give us her husband’s exact recipe. But the basic mixture is pork (typically shoulder augmented with trimmings and off cuts), fat, salt, and Calabrian hot peppers—lots of them. “We have somebody grow the peppers for us, with seeds from Calabria,” says Michele. “My garage is filled right now with peppers drying with a giant fan. Rosario dries them himself, then grinds them.”

Hot Calabrian peppers drying in the Barbalace garage. Photo courtesy of Michele Barbalace.

After grinding, casing, and curing, it’s time to cook and eat it, and that’s where ’nduja gets a little wacky. “It comes in a casing, like in a sausage, but it’s soft and spreadable,” says Michele. The phrase “spreadable meat” doesn’t have massive culinary appeal, granted. But think of it like French pâté (the term ’nduja supposedly derives from the French word andouille). Just like pâté, “you can spread [’nduja] on grilled bread,” says Michele, which is how Rosario likes to eat his.

You can also cook with it. When you cook with ’nduja, it melts. Because of all the pork fat it contains, when a scoop of ’nduja hits a hot pan, it sizzles into porky, spicy richness. It’s almost like an Italian chili oil, injecting mysterious meaty heat into things like soup, pizza and pasta. ’Nduja also pairs well with seafood, which is perhaps not surprising when you consider the appeal of Portuguese mussels and chorizo. “People put it on salmon, or a clam or mussel sauce,” says Michele.

Local chefs are embracing it, too. At Sirena Ristorante in Long Branch, ’nduja is cooked into Prince Edward Island mussels antipasti with cherry tomatoes, fregola and basil. At Anthony David’s in Hoboken, the Taleggio Arancini are served with ’nduja tomato sauce.

If you need a fix faster than you can make a reservation, head to Rosario’s. “We have a huge customer base,” says Michele, including patrons who come from Trenton just for the ’nduja. “People come from all over to buy it. Old school Italians, they appreciate it, they know it.”

You can get to know it, too. Just be ready for some heat.

Rosario’s Butcher Shop is located at 252 Park Avenue in Upper Montclair; 973-655-0999

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