Cudighi cook-off held in Ishpeming

A cudighi sandwich from Gravedoni Street Eats is pictured at the inaugural U.P. Cudighi Cook-off and Festival in Ishpeming Saturday. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

ISHPEMING — The Upper Peninsula has many beloved symbols: saunas, Stormy Kromer hats, flannels, pasties and the spiced pork sausage patties known as the cudighi. To celebrate this mouth-watering cultural element, the inaugural U.P. Cudighi Cook-off and Festival took place in conjunction with the Red Earth Classic 24-hour bike race Saturday afternoon on Malton Road in Ishpeming.

“Cudighi is really central to this area,” Justin Koski, event coordinator for the Red Earth Classic and Cudighi Cook-off, said.

Cudighi first came to the area with Northern Italian immigrants during the last century. Served on toasted bread with melted mozzarella and marinara sauce on top, it has become a favorite menu item in restaurants and delis across Marquette County.

“In fact, it was originated in Italy– of course– and when the Italians brought it here with them they only kept it alive,” Koski said. “So now it’s very, very challenging, if not impossible, to find a menu with a cudighi on it. If you live here, you just think cudighi is a thing, but anybody that comes up is like ‘What is a cudighi?'”

Vendors from across the county and one from Sault Ste. Marie came to sell cudighi sandwiches as well as compete for the World Champion Cudighi at the cook-off.

“One of the 12 people here is going to walk away with the world champion cudighi,” Koski said.

Trophies were presented to all first place winners in five categories; best sauce, best bread, best meat, best overall cudighi and the people’s choice cudighi. Competitors were asked to prepare 200 1-inch slices, with 15 reserved for judges. Food was required to be made in a licensed facility and all competitors had to show proof of certification. Festival-goers had the chance to vote on the people’s choice award with tokens given to their favorite competitor.

Lawry’s Pasty Shop joined the competition.

“I hope my customers all show up to vote for me and I would be grateful if they did,” Mike Lawry, owner and operator of the Greenwood store, said.

Lawry’s Pasty Shop came prepared with their tried-and-true recipe that they’ve been using since the early 1980s.

“I think we have a pretty good chance,” Lawry said.

Gravedoni Street Eats of Negaunee, which was established in 2016, decided to test out their cudighi making abilities at the event as well. Owner and operator Vince Gravedoni was excited to compete.

“It’s such a big local food I knew it would be a hit,” Gravedoni said about the event. “I just wanted to get my name in the ring to see where I rank amongst all the other big names.”

Partitioned off in a private tent, 18 judges blindly sampled each entry and gave it a score on a scale from one to 100. The panel was comprised of delegates from the local unions of electricians, mines, millwrights, teachers, nurses, Yooper write-ins and established cudighi experts. Samples were tested by sauce, bread, meat and overall presentation.

“The competition extends beyond tonight,” Koski said. “The person that wins is going to set a legacy of being the World Championship Cudighi Cup holder of 2019. This is the only place where cudighi is being made, so you will be a world champion.”

Winners will be announced on the group’s Facebook page. The champion for overall best cudighi will receive media attention, an event at their establishment and the festival opening registration event this fall.

Corey Kelly can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243.


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