Michigan boasts a rich culinary landscape influenced by immigrants and giving rise to unique and beloved dishes such as the pasty.
These creations, rooted in cultural traditions from across the globe, have found a special place in the hearts and palates of Michiganders. And among these culinary treasures, while perhaps not as widely celebrated as the pasty, stands Cudighi.
But what exactly is Cudighi and where can you get it?
In this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know.
What is Cudighi?
Cudighi is an Italian-American dish consisting of a spicy Italian sausage seasoned with sweet spices that can be bought in links or served flattened on a sandwich on a long, hard roll, often with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. It is now primarily found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
While the Cudighi’s historical roots may not extend as deeply as those of the pasty, they still reach quite far into the past.
It’s said that Cudighi is derived from a Northern Italian sausage called “Cotechino,” which dates back to around 1511 and is made from pork, fatback, and pork rind. It’s a dish with protected designation of origin status and sometimes served on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve.
So how did it become associated with the Upper Peninsula?
In 1936, an Italian immigrant opened up a sausage stand between the family barbershop and a bar, where he sold homemade sausage sandwiches dressed with chopped onions, ketchup, and mustard.
He called the meat “gudighi” and kept the recipe’s special spices under wraps.
Following World War II, as pizza gained popularity in America, his son launched his own establishment and decided to add his unique twist to the dish. He flattened the sausage meat into a patty and layered it with marinara sauce and mozzarella on a bread roll. However, he retained the same secret spice blend.
Soon, the sandwich took off in the area and you could find it in lots of restaurants. At some point, the name changed to Cudighi, though some people still refer to it by its its original moniker.
You can find Cudighi largely in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan around the Marquette and Ishpeming area. Popular places include: Ralph’s Italian Deli, Lawry’s Pasty shop, and Vango’s Pizza & Cocktail Lounge, but pretty much any deli or place that serves pizza or pasties might serve them.
Ralph’s has been around since the 1960s and they have a bit of a pedigree in the Ishpeming area, so it made sense that we would go with them first.
It’s a compact deli that is jampacked with all sorts of deli goods and Cudighi variations. (Around here you can find Cudighi in many different products and some people eat it on other foods like pizza.)
We tried the original version with ketchup, mustard, onions and cheese first. Admittedly, it didn’t sound very appetizing for someone like me who doesn’t necessarily care for lots of raw onions. But I didn’t feel like the ketchup or mustard over powered the flavor of the sausage and generally enjoyed it. We went with the medium but they offer three different spice levels.
We also opted for the more contemporary rendition featuring mozzarella and zesty marinara sauce, a variation that quickly became our personal favorite. This version of the dish had a delightful, flavorful kick.
I’ve heard the sandwich described as sort of a cross between a patty melt and a sausage Philly cheesesteak which I think is an odd but somewhat accurate description.
Some just refer to these Cudighi sandwiches as an “Italian sausage sub” although there are some differences.
First, I have to say Cudighi is much funner to say. Hard to argue with that.
But notably, Cudighi has distinct spices and seasoning like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and seems to go without the key Italian sausage ingredient of fennel. So you’re working with a core flavor that’s pretty different from Italian sausage, although some Cudighi creations might bear more of a resemblance to traditional Italian sausage.
There may also be differences in things like the spice level of the sausage, bread type, etc., so I would consider Cudighi a distinct food, especially when eaten in its classic form with mustard, ketchup, and onions.
Some places serve very large portions of Cudighi making it a good dish to have when you are craving a full meal, much like a pasty. The perfect snack after a good hike.
Many establishments also offer the option to customize your Cudighi with various toppings like mushrooms or peppers, ensuring that your meal suits your personal preferences.
Moreover, when it comes to sides, some places accompany Cudighi with waffle fries, while others provide regular fries or chips,
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend giving Cudighi a try if you’re seeking a distinctive regional delicacy during your visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.