Baloney is not from Bologna. Mortadella is!
WHAT IS MORTADELLA
Mortadella is a cooked cured pork meat from Bologna, Italy. Because of its place of origin, Americans named their version of the delicacy bologna or baloney. However Italian Bologna has little to do with American bologna: this distant relative seems to have lost all the connection with its predecessor. While baloney can be a mixture of pork, turkey, chicken and beef meat, mortadella is only made of 100% high quality pork. At least it has been this way since 1661, when cardinal Girolamo Farnese forbade the use of any meat except for pork for the delicacy’s production.
Mortadella also has a few ‘’cousins’’ in Italy. To the north from Rome you can find mortadella di Amatrice, which is prepared with different spices and is lightly smoked. The mortadella di Prato in Tuscany is spiced with garlic and colored with Alchermes liqueur.
Today mortadella is spiced with pepper along with pistachios, olives, and myrtle berries. However when it originated about 500 years ago, pepper hadn’t yet become available to European markets. Instead the Romans spiced the product with myrtle berries, hence the name - from the Roman farcimen mirtatum (meaning myrtle sausage).
In 1661 cardinal Girolamo Farnese forbade the use of any meat except for pork for the production of mortadella.
HOW MORTADELLA IS MADE
To prepare mortadella, Italians use special machines to finely mince high quality pork meat. They then add previously cooked cubes of fat taken from a pig’s throat and sprinkle in salt and different spices, such us myrtle berries and pepper. The whole mixture is then filled into a giant casing, which is hung in a spacious oven. One such casing usually weighs about 15 kg and is slowly cooked for about 24 hours. Some sausages though can be up to several hundred kilos!
After mortadella has been cooked, it is cooled down with cold water. This whole process allows meat to reach a perfect blend and texture.
As you have probably guessed, mortadella hasn’t always been prepared this way. When it first appeared, the Romans used to ground meat with a mortar. This labor-intensive process along with expensive spices left the delicacy reserved for nobility. Luckily, in the 19th century machinery made mortadella affordable to masses and it became even more popular.
Some sausages can be up to several hundred kilos!
IS MORTADELLA GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Mortadella is that rare case when you can enjoy food without feeling guilty. Don’t let the white cubes of fat confuse you - those are mostly good unsaturated fats similar to those in olive oil. The cholesterol levels are relatively low, more or less equal to those in a serving of turkey or chicken. Plus, this delicacy is high in protein and low in calories, which makes it perfect for health conscious people.
All of this is true of Mortadella Bologna IGP (see below). Other mortadella that don’t have a certificate may have more calories and higher levels of cholesterol. By choosing a certificated product, you can also be sure no artificial colors, preservatives or milk derived products have been added to it.
Don’t let the white cubes of fat confuse you - those are mostly good unsaturated fats similar to those in olive oil.
HOW TO TELL IF MORTADELLA IS HIGH QUALITY
In 1998, the European Union started defending authentic mortadella by granting it the Protected Geographical Indication (IGP in Italian). This means that you can easily identify the best product by looking for a sign saying ‘’La Mortadella Bologna IGP’’. This certificate is only given to mortadella prepared according to a strict process with certain ingredients taken in certain proportions. Thus, the lean meat to fat ratio in a final product must be seven to three.
You may think that ‘’La Mortadella Bologna IGP’’ can only be made in Bologna. In reality the area of production is rather extensive: along with Emilia Romagna, the certificated delicacy can be made in Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany, Marche, and even Lazio and Trentino.
The best mortadella will always have fat cubes evenly and firmly embedded into the product, which means that meat and fat wouldn’t separate when slicing. It will be oval or round in shape and pink in color. The sausage must have a firm and homogeneous texture, a distinctive fragrance and a delicate taste.
In 1998, the European Union started defending authentic mortadella by granting it the Protected Geographical Indication (IGP in Italian).
HOW TO SERVE MORTADELLA
The options are really many. You can accompany mortadella with good bread or even enjoy it alone, cut in little cubes or very thin slices. One more way to serve mortadella is to turn it into a mousse (spuma di mortadella) by mixing it with some soft cheese.
Mortadella is a truly versatile product: it can be a simple appetizer (antipasti) or a part of a main course, for example, as a stuffing in pasta ripiena. You could also mix mortadella with eggs and vegetables to prepare frittata. Locals would often put a slice of mortadella on a warm tigella. This way the delicacy practically melts in a mouth leaving a gentle finish.
Mortadella works well with almost any soft cheese, such as squacquerone or ricotta. As for wines, Lambrusco, a fresh and scented wine of Emilia Romagna, is a perfect choice. Alternatively, you could accompany it by Pignoletto, a white and lightly sparkling wine also coming from the hills of Emilia Romagna.
An original way to serve mortadella is to turn it into a mousse by mixing it with some soft cheese.
WHERE TO BUY THE BEST MORTADELLA
Although mortadella is produced in as many as seven regions of Italy, you will find the most authentic one in its place of origin - Bologna. Some of local delicatessens have been producing mortadella for many years now, passing knowledge from one generation to another.