Pennsylvania Salami Makers: Homemade Soppressata or “Soupie”

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"Soupie" or Soppressata during the "first hanging." The meat is already starting to shrink and change color; the meat hangs in this manner for one week. Courtesy of Matt Scicchitano

Pennsylvania Salami Makers: Homemade Soppressata or “Soupie”

In Calabria, the salumi sopressata (see my guide to salumi) enjoys PDO or Protected Designation of Origin status meaning any salami labeled as Sopressata di Calabria must be entirely manufactured (prepared, processed AND produced) within the specific region according to traditional methods.  Sopressata received its name from the practice of pressing the salami between pieces of wood resulting in a straight, flattened shape (click here for more articles on salumi and charcuterie).

Travel a little over 5000 miles west to the coal regions of central Pennsylvania and you’ll encounter another community intent on making world class Soppressata or “soupie” as they refer to it in coal country.  According to Matt Scicchitano, a Scordo.com reader, third and fourth generation Italian Americans produce soupie every year right around the first of January. Completely unaware of the aforementioned tradition, I’m posting Matt’s wonderful description of both the soppressata / soupie making tradition in central Pennsylvania and his vivid photos.

Scicchitano and his oldest son, Sal, getting the hang of cranking the grinder/stuffer. Courtesy of Matt Scicchitano

"soupie" or Soppressata ready to dry for a week before being pressed, notice the great work with the string

The equipment used to press the soupie in order to give it it's unique shape. The meat is pressed for 3-4 days using about 400 pounds of pressure Coutesy of Matt Scicchitano

The “coal region” is a span of central PA that was made popular back in the 1800′s/early 1900′s due to the enormous amounts of anthracite coal found in the area. Pair that with the global need for coal as an energy source at the time and it’s easy to see how our area became popular very quickly. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants flocked to this area during that time because of the demand for cheap labor from the coal companies, and among those immigrants was a large percentage of southern italians, specifically Calabrese. This area became a melting pot of ethnic foods and customs from Italian to Irish to German to Polish and many others. Unfortunately many of the traditions are disappearing, if they haven’t disappeared already, but one tradition that is very much alive and well is making “soupie”.

The specific area of the coal region where I am from (the western end, made up of towns like Mount Carmel, Kulpmont, Atlas, Shamokin, Locust Gap, etc)  not only had a large amount of Calabrese immigrants, but specifically from one small village in Calabria called Isca (Isca is located on the easter side of Calabria, along the Mediterranean and Ionian seas). This is where our beloved soupie came from and was one of many foods that were brought over and remained a strong part of the italian communities in our area, though it is one of the last that still remains popular. It is so popular, in fact, that many of the younger generations really have no idea when or where it came from or even that it’s “Italian.” They only know that their dads and/or uncles made it, and their dads and uncles before them, and if anything, it is a “coal region” thing and it is made by everyone in this region, not just those with Italian heritage.

In our family, my wife and I are the soupie makers (with help from my dad), however many men get together with friends/brothers/cousins for soupie weekends where cellars and garages throughout the coal region take on an almost “superbowl” atmosphere, usually with plenty to eat and drink. Women are not usually among those involved in making soupie in our area.

Each group of guys have their own “secret ingredient” or a secret ratio of the main ingredients(salt, pork, some form of red pepper), and of course, everyone’s are “the best.” This thinking among soupie makers in our area has spawned “soupie bowls” which are basically taste testing contests to see whose soupies are the best. Many businesses and local news stations have become part of the anual contests and have even expanded to include pasta dishes and homemade wine in the judging.

Soupie back up for a second and last hanging. They are flattened out quite a bit already, but will shrink/flatten even more as they continue to dry. Depending on the weather, they will usually hang for about four weeks like this.

Soupie ready to be consumed. The rule of thumb, according to Scicchitano, is that you put them in oil after they are done hanging and wait until the first ripe tomato from the garden to eat the first soupie of the season (we never wait that long!). Courtesy of Matt Scicchitano

I learned how to make soupie years ago by a great woman who was born and raised in Isca (also where my family is from) and she not only showed me how to make them with great detail, but explained why her family made them, how they raised their pig and what it meant to have it so they could cure it’s meat and contine to live off of it for months to come. How she would stuff the casings with the ground pork with nothing but her thumbs. It gave me a great deal of pride and respect for our soppressata that my own family makes, not because we need it to survive anymore, but because our great grandparents and everyone before them did.My wife and I are currently building a house and we spent an hour talking with the builder on where we could put vents/windows to have cross ventilation so we could hang our soupie. The builder never heard of them and was amazed that I would put so much importance on this seemingly minor detail but as I explained to him in great detail about supressata and what it means to us, he was as determined as I was on getting the ventilation right(which we did).

Thanks for the great story, Matt!

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  • http://bleedingespresso.com Michelle | Bleeding Espresso

    Awesome feature, Vince, and great write-up Matt! As both of you know, I grew up in the Coal Region (Matt’s relatives basically surrounded me in my hometown!) and now live in the area of Calabria our ancestors came from; I have to say it’s always a special moment whenever I bite into a piece of soupie/supressata here, and it takes me right back to my kitchen table in Atlas munching on some that my grandfather (Lithuanian, not an ounce of Italian blood) made…yes indeed the supressata has gone global, especially in the Coal Region ;)

  • http://www.remakingchristine.com Christine Rudalevige

    What part of the coal region does this fabulous tradition take place? I have relatives in Scranton and live in Carlisle. I am just starting to cure meat as part of the charcutepalooza project.

  • Marie

    Loved this article. Takes me back to my Nono’s (born in Calabria) attic where I always saw “soupies” hanging. (circa 1940). The only difference was Nono’s soupies were all irregular shapes. You have improved upon them, Matt. Nothing beats sitting around on a Fall day with a small plate of soupies, cheeses, fruits, some good wines and/or homemade liquors.

  • http://www.scordo.com Vincent Scordo

    Hi Christine,
    From what Matt states the main sections of PA are all on the western end, “made up of towns like Mount Carmel, Kulpmont, Atlas, Shamokin, Locust Gap, etc.”
    The charcutepalooza project is very cool, we made duck prosciutto!
    Vince

  • http://www.scordo.com Vincent Scordo

    Very cool, Michelle, I thought there was a connection when I remembered you were from PA originally. Soupie has, indeed,gone global!
    Vince

  • http://bleedingespresso.com Michelle | Bleeding Espresso

    Yes Vince — I’ve known Matt since kindergarten :)

  • Simon

    I really enjoyed reading this feature Vin, thank you for sharing about the “soupie” tradition.

  • Frank Balestri

    Hello that looks great.I had the pleasure of attending a Soupie contest several years ago.I had made friends with Art Catino.I live in Chicago Il.since then I have had my own contest,last year we had over 380 people in attendence and 40 contestants.Trying to keep the tradition alive!!!! Frank Balestri aka the Sodfather.You can view my Instuctional video on youtube titled Sodfather.

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  • franise87@aol.com

    Frank Balestri’s 6th Annual Soppresatta contest in Chicago Il.Sunday April7th Fundraiser for the 100 Club of Chicago–The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.Lets support are Fallen Officer’s!!!!

  • Pasqualina

    What’s the recipe Vince?

  • Tony

    This is an excellent and very informative write-up. I am from the PA coal region and had only been introduced to soupie a few years ago. My uncle had cut a sliver of some meat product he called “soupie” on a hunting trip one day, and from there I had a new obsession. I never even stopped to think about how it’s made or where it came from, as I thought it was some typical meat snack from a butcher shop. Thanks to both of you, Vincent and Matt, for enlightening me on the matter. Maybe now that I have a better understanding of soupie, I can try my hand at making it sometime.

  • Tony

    Great story Vince. I live in the Coal Region and have been fortunate enough to not only learn the tradition of soupie making but be a judge at some local soupie contests. There are four annual soupie contests in the Shamokin-Mount Carmel, Pa., area: Forest Hill Fire Co, Coal Township, Maine Fire Co, Coal Twp., Mount Carmel American Legion, Mount Carmel Twp., and the West End Fire Co, Kulpmont. As many as 50 different soupies have been entered by groups of men who make them to compete for the coveted Pig Trophy!

  • Ernie & Joan

    Vince-It’s like I hit the JACKPOT today when I found your site!!!! I’m from Western PA also (Apollo, PA). Just 2 years ago, my husband and I decided to try to make Sopresatta, as his parents did many years ago. The parents are deceased, so we searched the web, read books, and gave it a try. WE LOVED IT!! We will always be learning, and think that we can learn so much from your site. As January approaches, we just can’t wait to start thionking about SOPRESATTA.

    • http://www.scordo.com/ Scordo.com

      Very neat! Thanks for visiting and I’m glad you enjoy the site. Making salumi is tough stuff so all the best to you!