It is generally a mild sausage, except in the south of Italy, where it has a bit more kick. The best known Luganega comes from the north.
Some parts of Italy may use in it meat from the cheek or neck of the pig; others use pork shoulder, others might use some rib meat as well. Fattier versions are meant for stewing; leaner ones for grilling.
Most versions are fresh (i.e. not cured), and therefore needing cooking. There are, though, a few cured versions that are treated as a salami.
The sausage can be matured for a time ranging from 4 days to 4 months.
Luganega in Basilicata
In the south of Italy, in Basilicata, the name of Luganega changes slightly to “lucanica” or “lucania”, but it is the same long, coiled sausage. Production there centres on the town of Latronico.
The sausage is made from pork shoulder (both lean and fat.) It is a light pink colour before cooking.
One Basilicata version, a more expensive one, is flavoured with salt, pepper and wild fennel. A less-expensive one is flavoured with red chile pepper flakes, salt and pepper — some wags say the spicier flavour is to take your mind off the gristle in this cheaper version.
Luganega in Lombardy
The best Luganega in Lombardy, called “Luganega da Monza”, reputedly comes from the town of Monza — at least, according to the people of Monza. Their version is flavoured with fennel seed and garlic. In Lombardy, Luganega is spelt and pronounced “luganiga.”
Luganega di Treviso
Luganega made in Treviso (in the Veneto region) is a bit more slender than that made in other areas.
One Treviso version has rice in it, as well as lean and fat from the belly of the pig. It is seasoned with cassia, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, mace, and nutmeg, This version is meant to be served with a rice dish such as risotto luganega da risi. When used actually in the risotto, the sausage is meant to dissolve into the risotto to become a flavouring item. If you want a few pieces to survive whole in the risotto for looks, add them halfway through the cooking.
Another Treviso version uses other parts of the pig, and yet other Treviso versions use chicken livers and gizzards. The chicken ones are called “salsicce de rosto” (“roasting sausages”); they are cooked by grilling.
Almost all Treviso versions are fresh versions that need cooking.
Lucanica mochena piccante
This version of Luganega is made year round in the Trentino area. It is sold ready to eat; it needs no cooking.
It is made from minced pork seasoned with finely ground salt, ground black pepper, ground red peppers, minced garlic, and coarsely ground black pepper. Potassium nitrate is also added for colour and preservation. The mixture is packed into casings about 13 feet (4 metres) long, and about 2 ½ inches (5 cm) wide. The casing is tied off into sections about 6 inches (15 cm long) but is still left as one long piece. The sausages are then hung for 2 days in a room with the temperature around 60 F (16 C) with a humidity of 60% to dry, then moved to another room for aging for 30 to 40 days at 59 F (15 C) at a humidity of 80%.
The sausage may be lightly smoked for 12 hours with smoke from juniper branches in between the drying and aging stages. When smoked, it is called “Lucanica mochena affumicata.”
Apicius gives a recipe for a smoked sausage called “Lucanicae”, but there’s no indication the sausage is coiled.
Based on the name of the sausage, Luganega, some feel its origins are in Basilicata (the region was called “Lucania” in Roman times.) Other sources argue that the word “Luganega” may actually come from a Lombard word in the north, pointing to northern origins — though they don’t seem to say what that word is.
Those who ponder the possibility that the sausage and name may have had a Roman origin point to the sausage being historically widespread throughout the Italian peninsula, and similarly named and shaped sausages in other former Roman provinces such as Portugal, where “Linguiça” is made. The Portuguese Linguiça, however, may be Italian rather than Roman influenced.