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Dry-Cured Sausage

A brief history

By Paul Stannard, 3rd generation sausage maker -Fortuna's Sausage Co.

Sausage has been around for a long time. It was eaten by the ancient Babylonians in 1500 B.C. From then on, sausage evolved from being a product made out of the ground-up leftover scraps of pork to being the versatile and well-produced lean meat product it is today .

For a long time, sausage had to be consumed reasonably quickly after being made, as there was no way of refrigerating it or otherwise keeping it fresh. By approximately 500 B.C., however, the concept of dry-cured sausage had been created. Records show that there was a city off the coast of Cyprus called Salamis which had large salt lagoons. These lagoons would have been a necessity in the manufacture of dry-cured sausage, as salt was the only preservative for the meats known to man at the time.

History shows that it was the Romans who in fact perfected sausage-making. The sausage-makers of ancient Rome had guilds set up to protect their secrets and to pass them down to their apprentice sausage-makers. Even back in those ancient times, the sausage-makers were controlled by the government for sanitation and operating procedures. Experts in making the dry-cured sausage, the Romans knew how to cut, grind, mix, and season the meat perfectly. They also built special rooms for dry-curing. In these rooms, they could carefully control the special balance between temperature, humidity and air flow, all without the aid of the fans and refrigerators we use today. Dry-cured meats became a staple of the Roman army’s diet, so that they could keep up their protein levels on long marches to conquer other nations without their meat spoiling.

In the middle ages, dry-cured meats really took off, with each large city having its own special type of dry sausage. In northern Europe, they made a semi-dry sausage to be eaten during the summer month, called summer sausage. Southern Europeans made a completely dry-cured sausage that was able to be stored no mater what the temperature was. Certain cities became known for the type of sausage they made, such as frankfurters from Frankfurt, Germany and Genoa salami from Genoa, Italy.

When Italian immigrants came to Rhode Island around the turn of the century, they brought with them the old-world recipes and knowledge to make their own special types of dried sausages. The Italians who settled in Westerly were mostly from Calabria, and brought with them the recipes to make Soupy,” which is short for Sopressata. This is a peppery sausage, spicy and hot, and while there are many other styles of dry-cured sausage, nothing comes close to the taste of Soupy®. To this day, it is still made the same way it was hundreds of years ago, the recipes having been passed down through the generations. Of course, there are many Westerly families who boast that they make the best Soupy’s, and this makes for some friendly debate and competition. It is most interesting to think that something that the Romans created over a thousand years ago still goes on today in the homes of Italians in Rhode Island.

It’s a delicious, proud tradition that will hopefully stay with us at Fortuna's Sausage Co. for many years to come.

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