Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The tale of Mortadella

To the uninitiated, mortadella might not look anything special, but to locals of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the traditional meat is a cherished part of everyday life. There’s a love of all things pork in the area, which can be traced back to the times of the Etruscans and the Gauls, who used to hunt wild pigs in the abundant forests of the region.
Mortadella itself is considered by most to be a creation of the Romans, who found a clever way to preserve the meat for longer, by grinding it up and adding salt. The distinctive flavor comes from the addition of herbs and small amounts of fat from the neck of the pig.
With spices being an expensive luxury in Roman times, the dish was considered a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford, but as time went by, and meat became more affordable, it gained in popularity. Because the meat is ground, creating mortadella became a great way for butchers to reduce waste by using some of the less-in-demand pats of a pig. Sliced thinly, it makes the perfect sandwich filler, and sits well on any antipasto platter.