Mortadella is an Italian cured sausage, resembling bologna in size and appearance. It is made of pork that is first ground and then mashed into a paste, and may get its name from the Roman word for "mortar." A mortar and pestle were once commonly used to crush meats, fruits, and grain.
In addition to meat, mortadella is studded with fat taken from the throat of the pig. It is spiced with pepper, and may also contain myrtle berries and coriander. In Italy, the sausage is often studded with pistachios or pine nuts. As prepared in Italy, it is cooked for several hours at a low temperature, with low humidity. After baking, it must be refrigerated, but can keep for up to eight months.
Mortadella was and is still most frequently produced in Bologna, Italy, and it's mentioned in records dating as far back as the 14th century. An estimated 160,000 tons are consumed in that country each year.
In most cases in the US, mortadella is sliced as thick as bologna, but Italians prefer to serve it very thinly sliced. Even though the fat pieces may look ominous to dieters, this sausage does not contain an overwhelming amount of saturated fat. Each slice has approximately 9% saturated fat, but an overall 28% fat content.
In Italy, mortadella is a popular sandwich ingredient, often combined with provolone cheese in a panino. It's also used as one of the meats in antipasto dishes, where it may be topped off with a thin layer of olive oil. Most US submarine sandwich restaurants use mortadella, along with Genoa salami, ham and provolone cheese, to produce the well-loved Italian sub. Europeans outside of Italy use the sausage frequently and are its largest consumers outside of Italy. It's also popular in Brazil and Argentina, and its market in the United States is experiencing significant growth.
Most gourmets avoid American-made mortadella, unless it is made in the Italian style. Part of this may be due to the US tendency to serve the sausage in thick slices, where the spice and fat may be overbearing. Throughout the US, Italian and other European markets and delis often offer more traditional styles.
If a shopper cannot find mortadella that appeals to him or her locally, it can be ordered from various American suppliers online. The Internet also provides the opportunity to order the classic sausage straight from Bologna. Chefs my find that it's necessary to invest in a slicer to achieve the classic serving style.