Route 40 changes course from empanadas to choripan

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When Felipe Cufre moved from Argentina to Denver three years ago to join his American wife, he knew he wanted to do something related to food. He was working on a cookbook when he stumbled on the inaugural Civic Center Eats food-truck gathering in Civic Center Park in 2010, which inspired him to create his own truck. And so Route 40, named for one of the main highways in Argentina, started rolling in 2011.

But Cufre had to change the truck's culinary course earlier this year.

From the start, Cufre struggled to find a balance between authenticity and price. In order to keep flavors extremely accurate, he ordered many ingredients from Argentina, including empanada dough and pepper flakes. Empanada dough is sold in Argentina like sandwich bread is sold in the United States, cut into thin, ready-to-use slices that are much easier to manage than handmade dough. Cufre was importing an Argentinean brand, La Saltena, to cut down on cooking time for the 1,000 empanadas he was making per week -- but he soon realized that importing items was just too expensive and that he needed to replace the empanadas with another item. "Empanadas were too hard," he says. "Why not put a choripán on the menu?"

But in order to serve that popular Argentinean sausage sandwich, he needed to find someone who could create genuine Argentinean sausage. He contacted several sausage makers before walking unannounced into Belfiori Italian Sausage in Wheat Ridge, where he found owner/operator Gino Scarafiotti. "I gave him my recipe and said, 'Do you want to try?'" Cufre remembers.

Scarafiotti had never heard of Argentinean sausage, let alone the choripán. He looked over the unfamiliar recipe, which included such unusual ingredients as ground bacon, white wine and nutmeg. "When I saw that the second ingredient was ground bacon, I was sold at that," Scarafiotti says. "I said, 'Of course I'll make it -- it sounds delicious.'"

Continue reading for the rest of the story.

The main difference between Argentinean sausage and Italian sausage is the strong oregano and garlic flavor of the former, Scarafiotti says. His first attempt at the recipe was a bit too salty. "But the second time was awesome," Cufre says. "No one makes it like that."

Cufre added the sausage sandwich to his menu right before the start of this summer's food-truck season. The Route 40 choripán consists of sausage, lettuce and tomato on a baguette, with the option of adding chimichurri or Patagonian salsa, both Argentinean sauces; the sandwich sells for $7.

In Buenos Aires, open-fire grills draw crowds of hungry people attracted by the aroma of the choripán. Because of Denver's fire restrictions, Cufre has to cook his sausage on a conventional gas griddle with a vented hood. "There are so many things I want to do the same that I just can't," he says. "With all of the laws, it is impossible." But Denver customers don't seem to mind. The sandwich has been extremely popular since it was introduced. "Sometimes people come back two times and say, 'Can I have another?'" Cufre says.

Mijali Barbagallo is a fan of Route 40's choripán, which means much more to him than lunch. The smell of the asado and the taste of the sausage remind him of his Argentinean father and childhood trips to Buenos Aires. "It brings back memories," he says. "And breaks the diet."

Cufre isn't through making changes to the menu. He plans to make more gluten-free items, something he never had to consider in Argentina. And deciding where to take his truck has been a "trial and error" process, he says. To find out where Route 40 -- and its choripán -- can be found, go to www.route40foodtruck.com. Or just head over to Civic Center Eats: The truck is in Civic Center Park today.

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