Food - Drink
How Mortadella Became An Italian Cultural Phenomenon
By RYAN CASHMAN
It’s easy to mistake mortadella for bologna, but American bologna is a far cry from the traditional, much-loved mortadella of Emilia-Romagna. Mortadella is far more refined and specified, made of “heat-cured pork and fat cubes,” where the fat remains unmelted and tender during the baking process, retaining its cubed shape.
Italian mortadella is a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) with a specific set of rules on how it’s made, where it comes from, and what exactly can be called mortadella. It’s been a staple of Italian culture since ancient times — from being a part of the rations that fed the Roman army to having a quarter of Bologna’s entire population manufacturing it in the Middle Ages.
Prior to the PGI, various guilds and decrees were put in place to protect the integrity and quality of this cherished meat. Creating "fake" mortadella was even considered a punishable crime — according to a 1720 decree, "your body will be stretched on the rack three times, you will be fined 200 gold coins, and all the food you make will be destroyed."
The meat is still beloved today as it’s very versatile — it can be ground up and used in meatballs, stuffed into ravioli or tortellini, blitzed into a mousse and served on crackers, or sandwiched between focaccia. Mortadella was even the main feature of a 1971 Sophia Loren movie, “La Mortadella,” or "Lady Liberty" in the U.S.