What Is Mortadella?

The deli case at the grocery store holds many beautiful hunks of meats and cheese, just waiting to be sliced thin and presented to you to take home and enjoy. But there is one undisputed king of the deli case: mortadella. How did it get this title? Well, I deemed it to be so, just now, because I really like it. But rest assured, mortadella is deli meat royalty. What is mortadella? What is mortadella made of? What’s in mortadella? Is mortadella bologna? Let’s get just the facts. We’ll have no baloney when it comes to mortadella. 

What is mortadella?

Mortadella is a large, Italian sausage. But when most people picture sausage, they think of those smaller, cylindrical tubes. Mortadella is a sausage that is also a lunch meat. This cold cut is made of pork, pork fat, and various seasonings. It’s a popular lunch meat throughout Europe and its native Italy, but is most famous in its town of origin, Bologna (yes, as in the home of bologna aka baloney). Mortadella is eaten on sandwiches, cubed as an appetizer, clumped onto charcuterie boards, and even ground as a pasta filling. 

What is mortadella made of?

At its base, mortadella is made of finely ground cured pork, a mix of spices such as cardamom, coriander, and nutmeg, and bits of pork fat. Mortadella di Bologna is an EU protected recipe. Anything sold as Mortadella di Bologna has to include at least 15 percent of pork fat. The pork fat usually appears as whitish cubes in the lunch meat. 

What’s in mortadella?

So we know that mortadella is made from ground pork, various spices, and cubed pork fat, but what else is in it?  Mortadella can have black peppercorn grains and sometimes has pistachios. Not every mortadella will have nuts in it, but it is a common ingredient. Originally, when it was first created centuries ago, mortadella contained myrtle berries, and some modern slices keep it old school and include them as well. The word mortadella might even come from myrtle berries. 

What does “mortadella” mean? 

Mortadella could come from the latin “farcimen myrtatum,” a sausage seasoned with berries. Or it could come from “mortarium,” meaning mortar, as the original sausage was made using a mortar.

Is mortadella bologna?

So there’s mortadella, the lunch meat. Then there’s Mortadella di Bologna, the fanciest of mortadella, which comes from Bologna, Italy. Then there’s plain bologna, which a lot of us pronounce “baloney.” Mortadella is similar to bologna but it’s not the same. The biggest difference between mortadella and bologna is that bologna does not have those cubes of pork fat. Hold up a slice of mortadella and a slice of bologna. The mortadella will be speckled with cubes of fat and maybe some pistachios. The bologna will be smooth pink. That said, bologna as we know it is a descendant of mortadella. It’s not clear how we got bologna from mortadella, but it’s most likely that mortadella was brought over to the United States by German immigrants and then mass produced until it resembled the bologna we have today. I personally think that bologna and mortadella can live happily together, whether on a sandwich or in my belly.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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