Mortadella is a traditional sausage in Bologna, Italy used as a charcuterie meat. It comes already cooked, and has a pronounced taste.
It is unsmoked and unfermented. It is pinkish and has a very smooth texture save for the visible chunks of lard mixed in.
The sausage is made in four sizes:
- Small: .5 to 1 kg
- Standard: 10 to 15 kg
- Large: 30 to 100 kg
- Giant: 100 kg and up
The large ones can be about 10 feet (3 metres) long by 2 feet (60 cm) wide. But, to be machine cut, the sausage can’t be more than 14 inches (35 cm) wide; anything wider than that has to be cut by hand.
The meat in Mortadella is usually pork. Back meat will be up to 60% of the meat, and cheek lard 40%. But, the sausage can also be made from a mixture of pork and beef, and even pork, beef and horse. On the label an “S” means pure pork, “B” means pork and beef, “C” means pork, beef and horse. Any meat will be very finely ground.
The meat is shipped to producers frozen at a temperature of -4 F (-20 C.) One or two days before processing, it is brought up to a temperature between 14 F and 17 F (-10 and -8 C.) Processing of the meat begins at this temperature. This results in a more reliable consistency, especially regarding fat distribution, and helps to maintain better coloration of the finished product. When worked with at warmer temperatures, the resulting sausage sometimes can turn a out yellowish-beige. During grinding, the temperature of the meat will reach 37 to 39 F (3 to 4 C.) Casein protein is added to the meat, which helps the meat retain moisture, and helps bind everything.
The fat cubes are processed separately from the meat paste, then the paste and the fat are kneaded together by machines.
A minimum of 15% of the weight of the Mortadella must by regulation be the chunks of lard. In addition to the lard, a Mortadella can have broken pistachios and / or green olives in it. Sugar cannot be more than .5% of the ingredients, and any nitrates used, whether sodium or potassium, can be not more than 140 parts per million.
Seasoning can include pepper, pistachio, myrtle berries, garlic, anise, and coriander.
The exact ingredients and proportions vary by maker and are kept secret.
The mixture is then piped into its casings. The casings can be natural or synthetic. Natural casings allows product inside to breath and age better, but such casing is more expensive. Artificial casings are made from cellulose, or two layers of cellophane. These artificial ones are given an orange mattone colouring, because the mortadella within won’t develop the coloration that the consumer would expect were the casing natural. Both casings are often tied with cord.
The sausages are then cooked in tiled rooms. Some describe the cooking process as baking, some describe it as steaming. They are put in a copper steam kettle called a “stufa calda”; the people who do the steaming are called “stufini.” The moisture for the steaming comes from the product itself.
A Mortadella of 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter will be cooked for 4 hours; one that is 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter will be cooked for 21 hours. After cooking, the sausage is rapidly cooled by being misted with cold water to get it down to a temperature of 59 to 61 F (15 to 16 C); the goal is to get them to this temperature in between one and two hours after cooking. Then further cooling is done by air, to get the temperature down to (39 to 41 F) 4 to 5 C. From the start of processing to being shipped out of plant, about 3 days are required to make a Mortadella.
There is also North American made Mortadella, which will be smaller in size than the Italian ones.
As of 1999, 80% of the Mortadella produced in Italy was consumed within Italy, and just over 50% of it was produced by only 6 companies. By law, it can be made in Emilia Romagna, Latium, Lombardy, Marche, Piedmont, Trento, Tuscany, and Veneto.
Mortadella can be served on sandwiches or as a cold cut. It should be sliced almost paper thin. It is good with a cheese such as Provolone, and a sturdy bread.
Cubes of Mortadella can be used in salads or on pizzas.
Mortadella needs to be refrigerated, ideally at a temperature between 35 and 39 F (2 and 4 C.)
Once cut open, it should be wrapped in plastic wrap. The quality stays good for up to 7 days.
Mortadella was known towards the end of the Middle Ages. Boccaccio, in writing his “Decameron”, cites a meat product called “mortadello.” A group of people, “la corporazione dei salaroli di Bologna”, had a monopoly privilege on making mortadella granted by a 1242 law.
The first recorded recipe for Mortadella may be that recorded in 1600 by Vincenzo Tanara in his “Economia del Signore in Villa.” He calls for cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, moss, peppercorns, salt, sugar and cheese.
In 1661, a Cardinal Farnese issued a Church bann codifying mortadella production.
In 1988, regulations stated that Mortadella had to be submitted for three minutes to a heat of 249.98 F (121.1 C), or an equivalent combination of time and temperature, in order to ensure that any botulism spores would be reduced twelve-fold in it. In 1992, the regulations were modified to say that it had to reach a minimum internal temperature of 158 F (70 C.)
In the past, the meat used could include boar and donkey.
In 1967, pork products from Italy were banned in the United States because of African swine fever in Italy. Mortadella got caught up in this ban. Italians suspected it was actually to boost sales of American-made Mortadella. In February, 2000, the USDA finally lifted the ban on certain pork products, including Mortadella.
Mortadella received IGP status in February 1998 with EU directive CE 1549/98.
The Italian word for mortar is “mortaio” (from the Latin “mortario”), from whence, many people reason, the first part of the name “Mortadella.”
Some say it’s because meat used to be ground in a mortar — not the kind you use for spices, but a meat grinder, but others say it would be more likely in reference to a proper mortar and pestle used to grind the spices.
Another theory is that Mortadella comes from an old Roman sausage, farcimen mirtatum, which used myrtle as a flavouring.
Yet another theory is that it comes from the word “mortada”, meaning pale, referring to its pale rosy colour.
Cantoni, Carlo and Cattaneo, Patrizia. La mortadella: aspetti attuali tecnici della sua produzione. In Premiata Salumeria Italiana. Published by Edizioni Pubblicità Italia, Modena, Italy. March-April 2001 issue.
National Public Radio. All Things Considered. Food News — Mortadella. February 11, 2000. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1070265 in September 2005.