A love letter to Mortadella

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While Mortadella di Bologna IGP may have always been there for some,  it is definitely having a moment in the food scene, popping up on menus all over Toronto and beyond, right now. Mortadella di Bologna IGP has been immortalized on shirts, socks, caps, and even as a pool float by artist Katie Kimmel.

Despite its recent trendy status, Mortadella di Bologna IGP has held cultural and economical significance in the Emilia-Romagna region for hundreds of years, having been touted as food for princes and lords. Adding richness and creaminess to your favourite Italian dishes, Mortadella di Bologna IGP is the crowd-pleaser you need to make room for in your fridge, al più presto!


Bologna, Italy

What exactly is Mortadella di Bologna IGP? It’s an emulsified pork sausage, created within the nose-to-tail cooking approach to cuisine — a deep part of Italian food culture. How is it made? Pork is finely minced into a smooth paste, put into a casing, and steamed until the whole thing is evenly and thoroughly cooked. Mortadella di Bologna IGP gets its speckled look from the rich, white fat from the pig’s neck and black peppercorns mixed into the meat.

Because of the richness, Mortadella di Bologna IGP is often thinly sliced, especially when served sandwiched in rustic Italian bread or draped across a pizza. In Italian tradition, this versatile cold cut is also served as cubes on an antipasto board and incorporated into tortellini filling.

Although there are similarities between the product North Americans call “baloney” or “bologna” and Mortadella di Bologna IGP, there are some distinct differences between the two. To make baloney, it is a much simpler process, resulting in a coarser texture. Plus, baloney contains other meats ground together with the pork, like beef, unlike Mortadella di Bologna IGP which uses only pork.


This well-loved staple of Italian cuisine has roots dating back as far as 1376 according to a document referenced in The Gastronomy of Italy, a book by Italian food-writer Anna Del Conte. However, the first Mortadella di Bologna IGP recipe was technically recorded in 1644. The etymology of the word itself originated in the Latin word ‘mortarium’ — traditionally, pork meat was ground by hand using a mortar and pestle before it was mixed with the cubed neck fat, pistachios, myrtle berries and various spices. Centuries later the recipe remains the same, although today only pepper is used to add spice. Its popularity made it the namesake of the region, where mortadella-lovers were rushing to replicate the famed product — albeit incorrectly, incorporating beef.

Dichiarazione del Bando delle Mortadelle, 1661.

The onslaught of counterfeit Mortadella di Bologna IGP led Cardinal Farnese to pass a law in 1661 known as the Dichiarazione del Bando delle Mortadelle or the Declaration of the Band of the Mortadellas. This law ensured all production adhered to a set of rules and was exclusively crafted in the titular region of Bologna. Production was controlled and approved by the massaro – the predecessor of the modern Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) standard. Although other varieties exist, the official Mortadella di Bologna IGP is made solely in Bologna, a city in the Emilia-Romagna region, and production is regulated by Consorzio Italiano Tutela Mortadella di Bologna.


The antiquity of Mortadella di Bologna IGP continues to be deeply ingrained in Italian culture. It is built on the backbone of civic patriotism and a fiercely guarded secret still protected in the region today. The French missionary Jean-Baptiste Labat passed through Bologna on his evangelical travels in the spring of 1706. Already having tried the American counterpart, he deemed the traditional Italian better. Inquiring with the locals about the recipe, they remained tight-lipped concerning the method behind the dish.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, making Mortadella di Bologna IGP was a labour-intensive feat. When it was manufactured by hand, it was costly to produce — often given as a gift as a result. According to legend, Mortadella di Bologna IGP was given as a wedding gift to noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia when she married Alfonso I, Duke of Este. Fast forward to the 1800s when the mechanical meat grinder was invented. Though workers replaced the age-old mortar and pestle with machines, the same established standards and cultural expertise remain an essential part of the process.

When Italians immigrated to North America after World War II, they brought the Mortadella di Bologna IGP recipe with them. However, they used factory-raised pork and massive bowl cutters, which are shallow, parabolic bowls through which high-speed blades slice at thousands of revolutions per minute in its production.


Mortadella di Bologna IGP has seeped into far-reaching pockets of the globe — it is a top sandwich topper in Brazil, especially in São Paulo. Here a ‘mortadella sandwich’ has nearly half a pound of Mortadella di Bologna IGP sausage, Provolone cheese, sourdough bread, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. It is also a key ingredient in the muffuletta sandwich, which is said to have origins in Sicily. However, in Bologna, where authentic Mortadella di Bologna IGP is produced, you’ll find it served alone, sandwiched between two rolls. For purists, this is the perfect sandwich – just mortadella.


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