Mortadella - Gastro Obscura
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Meats & Animal Products

Mortadella

Baloney's predecessor is sweet, delicately spiced, and bigger than your head.

Mortadella Bologna IGP bears little resemblance to the rubbery slices of baloney that American schoolchildren pack in their lunches. The original bologna is a pink, watermelon-shaped sausage, composed of finely ground pork, chunks of fat, and an array of spices. In restaurants and markets all over the Italian city of Bologna, the sweet-savory meat is thinly sliced for panini, whipped into mousse for an aperitivo, and used as a stuffing for tortellini pasta.

To make true mortadella Bologna, butchers must first finely pulverize a lean cut of pork shoulder. For sweetness,  they’ll mix in myrtle berries and fatty cubes from the animal’s throat. For spice, they’ll sprinkle in seasonings such as pepper, garlic, nutmeg, and pistachios. After stuffing the mixture into oval-shaped casings, they’ll hang the sausages in room-sized ovens for a carefully monitored, slow-cooking session (about 24 hours for a 22-pound mortadella). 

Because of the labor-intensive meat-grinding process and pricey spices, mortadella was initially reserved for nobility. By the 19th century, however, machinery brought the meat to the masses. Its popularity spread throughout Europe, where it was called la Bologna, and eventually to the United States, where it devolved into the mass-produced distant relative known as baloney.

German immigrants played a key role in bringing “la Bologna” to the States and popularizing its new American adaptation. One such figure was Oscar Mayer. The entrepreneur’s eponymous brand still reigns supreme in the processed meat industry, thanks in part to an incredibly catchy jingle about baloney.

Perhaps the next time you’re choosing a sandwich filling, skip the well-known lunchmeat and opt for its predecessor. Real mortadella Bologna is not only a flavorful choice, but a healthy one. With lean pork and unsaturated fats, it’s often lower in calories than an equivalent turkey slice and a good source of protein.

Need to Know

"IGP" is the Italian abbreviation for "Protected Geographical Indication," the European Union's designation for special regional products. In mortadella's case, it must come from one of seven distinct Italian regions (including Emilio-Romagna, of which Bologna is the capital). Two top Bologna producers are Felsineo and Alcisa.

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Contributed by
Susan Van Allen
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