Ah, The Cuban. What a glorious sandwich! So much more than just ham and cheese, The Cuban has a long, and storied past that is not necessarily truthful. But we won’t hold that against it! It is a delicious sandwich that we have added to our menu with a little Ultimate California Pizza flair thrown in. But first a little history.
No one really knows the true origination of The Cuban. Some believe that the sandwich was a common lunch food for workers in the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba and the Florida Keys. However, because travel was so easy between Cuba and Florida, especially Key West in the late 1800’s and the largely undocumented travel of people, culture, and ideas of that timeframe, it really is impossible to narrow it down.
Although he may be a little partial, noted cigar historian Loy Glenn Westfall is quoted saying the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West”. Regardless of its origins, one has to appreciate the blends of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard smothered between two pieces of bread.
I digress… The first real mention of this sandwich arrives in the early 1900’s when workers in the cafes of Ybor City and West Tampa kept records. Since the Tampa food culture of the time was more defined and distinct than the rest of the area, it is relatively safe to say the sandwich we know and love today, may be an original Tampa creation. The Cuban culture was strong in the Tampa area thanks to the cigar industry rooting itself in the area.
By the 1960s, Cuban Sandwiches had become popular on cafeteria and restaurant menus in the Miami area as well. Due to the Communist Revolution in Cuba, waves of native Cuban expatriates were forced to settle outside of their home lands. Cuban exile communities popped up in Miami, New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Puerto Rico and many other U.S. territories. All of the sudden, the sandwich that had been gracing the menus in Tampa for the better part of a century, became a well-known offering in most major US cities.
Now there will always be a debate on the contents of a “true” Cuban sandwich. Most of that related to the widespread and rapid growing appreciation of the sandwich, but the main ingredients can be generally agreed upon. Usually it starts with a Cuban bread loaf sliced into 8-12 inch lengths, lightly butter or brushed with olive oil along the crust and then cut in half horizontally. Yellow mustard is spread across the bread before layering sliced roasted pork, glazed ham, swiss cheese and thinly sliced dill pickles. Often times the pork is marinated in a sauce during the cooking to add additional flavors.
The biggest disagreement on ingredients is the addition of salami. In South Florida, the salami is left out in other areas of the county where Italian immigrants live in close proximity to Cuban immigrants, salami was often added along with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. The sandwich also came to be toasted in a plancha, a press similar to the panini press, until the surface is slightly crispy and the cheese is melted before being cut into diagonal halves before serving.
At Ultimate California Pizza we put our own twist on this historical sandwich. Instead of the traditional Cuban bread, we have opted to utilize the Schiaccatta bread. Pronounced “Skiah-CHA-tah”, this bread is a classic Tuscan flat bread with a light dough and will make your taste buds dance. We use smoked ham, pulled pork and swap the swiss for Monterey jack cheese and pickles. To add some additional flavor, the UCP way, we add red onions, pickles, some of our Italian dressing and honey mustard for a flavor combination unique to Ultimate California Pizza.