The story of Bava Brothers soppressata, between Southern Italy and California
Due to complicated health and customs regulations, only a few types of Italian cold cuts are currently imported to the United States. Soppressata, or sopressata as is known in the US, doesn’t make the cut (pun intended). Fans of this firm and spicy salami, typical of Southern Italy and in particular the Calabria region, have a hard time finding a good domestic version of soppressata.
Eric and Steve Bava were especially aware of this problem. When they were kids in Chicago’s Italian-American community, they would eat the homemade soppressata that their grandfather used to make in his garage, which served as a drying room.
Having emigrated from the small mountain town of Simbario, Calabria, grandpa brought the traditional recipe to the States, and continued to do what people back home were doing: mixing pork meat with spices and pepper, pressing it under planks of wood, hanging it up to dry for weeks, preserving it in olive oil, and enjoying it with family and friends at every holiday and neighborhood gathering. Simple, yet tasty and incredibly rewarding.
Having soppressata in their DNA, Eric and Steve realized that, sadly, most Americans hadn’t had a chance to try grandpa’s creation, so they decided to continue the family tradition. Now, Bava Brothers Sopressata Calabrese is available at gourmet stores in Los Angeles (Joan’s on Third, for example), Chicago (Eataly and Siena Tavern), and a few other cities.
To learn more, I met with Steve Bava on a chilly LA morning (well, it was actually sunny, but chilly for SoCal standards).
This sounds like a quintessential Italian-American story. What is the American component, and what is the Italian one?
“Obviously our recipe is authentically Italian, because it was grandpa’s recipe all the way from his hometown in Calabria. However, our background is in the Italian-American community of Chicago. The main ingredient, pork, comes from Illinois, while the paprika that goes into the sausage is from Calabria. We produce it in California [Atascadero, in San Luis Obispo County], which has a dry and mild climate similar to Calabria. Overall, the passion for making food and the attention to detail is something we learnt during our trips to Italy.”
What makes sopressata, and Bava Brothers your sopressata, special?
“There are other versions out there, but the sopressata I’ve grown up with was pressed. That’s why it’s called sop-press-ata, right? It was only natural for us to follow that tradition. Since it’s pressed, it’s firmer than your standard salame. And then it’s spicy, due to the red chili pepper and the paprika. In our sopressata, we also add fennel seeds. All ingredients are fresh and natural, no preservatives. It’s probably best consumed within three months, but it preserves for a long time in the fridge.”
There are other versions out there, but the sopressata I’ve grown up with was pressed. That’s why it’s called sop-press-ata, right? It was only natural for us to follow that tradition.
What does the future have in store for Bava Brothers?
“We will keep working on our Calabrian heritage. Calabria, as a region, is quite underrated, pretty much like Sicily before everyone discovered what an amazing place it is. Similarly, Calabria has a lot to offer in terms of food, but it has not been “discovered” yet – gastronomically speaking.
Actually, a Bava Brothers ‘nduja [spicy, spreadable pork sausage, also typical of Calabria] is already in development. We’ve tested it with our family back in Chicago, and they’ve suggested some improvements. We’re almost there!
Also, we will expand our product line with other types of sopressata, for example using wild boar instead of pork meat. But we won’t introduce crazy variations to the original recipe. We’ve worked hard to reproduce the taste of grandpa’s sausage, so we don’t want to mess with the recipe. “
Alright, now I know all about the past, present, and future of Bava Brothers Sopressata. There’s only one question left: what’s the best way to enjoy it?
“Like other salumi, you can enjoy it on its own, of course. Make it a part of your antipasto platter, and it will surely stand out. Watch out for the strong and spicy flavor though! If you have some fresh or mild cheese, it will probably taste bland after you have a bite of sopressata. If you want to be more creative, use it on pizza or with an omelette. Personally, I like to mix some into my Bloody Mary to give it an extra kick.”