Mortadella Bologna: History, Information, Interesting Facts

Mortadella Bologna: history, info, interesting facts


Mortadella is a type of sausage closely related to the Italian city of Bologna, with which, in a way, shares a soul both intellectual and easygoing. Let’s find out the fascinating history of this specialty, how it’s made and many interesting facts. Let’s savor its most authentic taste, also thanks to the precious collaboration of the association of its most traditional producers: Consorzio Mortadella Bologna.

Mortadella Bologna: history, info, interesting facts (crt-01)


What is Mortadella?

Mortadella is a typical Italian cold cut whose origins lie belong to a distant past: some scholars speculate that they could date back to the medieval period, others to the Roman or even Etruscan era. There are several types of this specialty: the one that has become famous in the world is Mortadella Bologna IGP, produced with pork, making use of the most valuable parts of the animal. Oval or cylindrical, once cut it can be recognized by the characteristic pink color and the pleasantly aromatic scent.


The origins of Mortadella.

I’t is difficult to determine exactly the origins of Mortadella. Some interesting clues are provided by the study of the etymology of the name, an operation that has led historians to formulate two hypotheses: both would trace the famous specialty, in its primitive form (*1), to Roman times.

Mortadella: Mortadella from ‘mortarium’ (cc-02) Mortadella: Mortadella from ‘mortarium’ (cc-02)

Mortadella from ‘mortarium’.

According to this hypothesis, the name ‘Mortadella’ could derive from the Latin word ‘mortarium’ (‘mortar’), indicating the tool once used to grind pork meat. An interesting evidence about this can be found in an imperial-era bas-relief (*2), depicting seven pigs next to a mortar equipped with a pestle (the ‘mortarium’).

Mortadella: Marcus Terentius Varrone (img-01) Mortadella: Marcus Terentius Varrone (img-01)

Mortadella from ‘murtada’.

According to this second hypothesis, considered by many scholars the most reliable, the name could derive from the ‘murtada’, a kind of salami stuffed with myrtle berries, much appreciated at the time of ancient Rome, when it was known as ‘farcimen myrtatum’ or just ‘murtatum’, and therefore, not surprisingly, repeatedly mentioned by famous writers such as Pliny the Elder and Varro.

Taking into consideration these theories, it could be possible to deduce not only the birth date but also the birthplace of the true ‘ancestor’ of Mortadella, which would be the entire territory of the Italian peninsula.

*1: So, most likely, very different from the specialty currently marketed.
*2: Stele currently on display at the Archaeological Museum of Bologna.


The history of Mortadella Bologna.

Mortadella: Medieval butcher (crt-01)

The history of ‘Mortadella Bologna’, as it’s easy to understand from the name itself, is deeply tied to the Italian city of Bologna (*1) and to its surrounding area: an area in which, not surprisingly, pig breeding can boast a centuries-old tradition.

One of the oldest testimonies about this specialty dates back to 1644 and is included in the treatise ‘The economy of the citizen in the country’ (‘L’Economia del Cittadino in Villa’), written by the Bolognese Marquis Vincenzo Tanara. It’s the first codified recipe for the preparation of Mortadella: although this recipe is quite different from the one currently used (*2), its value is undeniable.
Mortadella: Bando e Provisione Sopra la Fabbrica delle Mortadelle e Salumi (crt-01) Another event of fundamental importance in the history of Mortadella Bologna took place a few years later, in 1661, when the Cardinal Girolamo Farnese (*3) published a notice, the ‘Notice about the Preparation of Mortadella and Salami’ (‘Bando e Provisione Sopra la Fabbrica delle Mortadelle e Salami’), in which he set precise rules to make this cured meat (*4). Mortadella: Cardinal Girolamo Farnese (cc-01) The official document was, for all its intents and purposes, a production specification manual, not so different from those currently used for the PDO and IGP specialties. A manual meant, among other things, to prevent any imitation attempt by entrusting the preparation of Mortadella only to the Guild of ‘Salaroli’ (*5).
In 1720, the rules established by Cardinal Farnese became even more stringent, thanks to a new notice, the ‘Dichiarazione del Bando delle Mortadelle’, issued by one of his ‘colleagues’: the Cardinal Curzio Origo. This new document introduced, inter alia, the mandatory use of a hallmark, the ‘Spanish Wax Seal of the Art of Salaroli’ (‘Sigillo in Cera di Spagna dell’Arte dè Salaroli’).

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For many years Mortadella continued to be an exquisite and expensive specialty, thus enjoyed only by the wealthy people. Everything changed during the Nineteenth Century, when the advent of the industrial era made it cheaper, not infrequently at the expense of its quality.

*1: Bologna, an Italian city located in the Region of Emilia Romagna, known by the Etruscans as ‘Felsina’ and by the Gauls as ‘Bononia’.
*2: For example, in the use of ingredients such as sugar, wine and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
*3: Girolamo Farnese, Apostolic Legate of Bologna between 1658 and 1662.
*4. Strict rules such as the one preventing the use of any meat other than pork.
*5: It’s, therefore, no coincidence that the emblem of the Guild of Salaroli includes a mortar.


How Mortadella Bologna PGI is made?

Here follow the procedure used to make Mortadella Bologna IGP (click here for the printable version).

Mortadella: Preparation of Mortadella, the meat is minced (crt-01)

01. The lean parts of the pork are cut into small pieces of and mixed. The meat grinder transforms the mixture into a creamy and homogeneous dough.

02. The healthiest fat of the pork, generally taken from the animal’s throat, is cut into small cubes (the ‘lardelli’). The cubes undergo a fast heating and drying process that removes the oily part.

Mortadella: Preparation of Mortadella, the Mortadellas are tiede (crt-01)

03. The cubes are mixed with the dough (‘impastatura’). Salt, spices and, if desired, fresh pistachios are added.

04. The creamy mixture is stuffed (‘insaccamento’) in a natural or synthetic bladder. Mortadella is tied with ropes, this way its shape is not modified by the cooking.

Mortadella: Preparation of Mortadella, the Mortadellas are stewed (crt-01)

05. Mortadella is cooked (‘stufatura’), using special dry air stoves (*1).

06. Mortadella is quickly cooled using a shower of fresh water.

The Mortadellas are now ready for tests, packaging and shipment.

*1: The cooking duration may vary from 8 to 24 hours, depending on the internal temperature of the Mortadella, that must reach at least 70°C.


Aristocratic or proletarian food?

Mortadella: aristocratic or proletarian food? (crt-01)

In Italy, during the second part of the last century (and, in part, still today), Mortadella was considered, in the collective imaginary, as the ‘proletarian’ cold cut par excellence: the essential filling of the sandwich (‘panino’), which was the typical breakfast for the average worker. This reputation was not necessarily bad but betrayed the true origins of a specialty that for centuries could be afforded only by the wealthiest classes. Its price was once very high (sometimes even higher than Prosciutto), because it was produced only by the finest artisans, using the best pork meat.
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The ‘devaluation’ of Mortadella began in the Nineteenth Century, with the development of food industries: this led to a reduction of the cost for its production (increasingly delegated to the machines), typically accompanied by a constant decrease in the quality of the ingredients.
One of the main reasons for the foundation of Consorzio Mortadella Bologna in 2001, was to revive the glory of what, in the past, was considered a delicacy worthy of a king.

Mortadella: Bologna, d'Accursio Palace.


The ‘Mortadella Day’ and the ‘Mortadella Festival’.

Mortadella: Il Mortadella Day e il Festival della Mortadella (crt-01)

Two are the events that every true fan of Mortadella Bologna should not miss. The first is the ‘Mortadella Day’ that each year, on the 24th October, celebrates the notice issued 1661 by Cardinal Girolamo Farnese, officially recognizing the uniqueness of this cold cut (more info).

Mortadella: Mortadella in the Bolognese cuisine (crt-01) Mortadella: Mortadella in the Bolognese cuisine (crt-01)


Mortadella in the Bolognese cuisine.

As you can imagine, Mortadella is the fundamental ingredient in many of the most exquisite specialties belonging to the Bolognese culinary tradition. In addition to the ‘Spuma di Mortadella’ (Mortadella Mousse), examined in another paragraph of this article, it’s impossible not to mention the ‘Tortellini’, whose taste is strongly characterized by the presence of this cold cut, and the ‘Stecco Petroniano’, one of the ‘components’ of the ‘Gran Fritto alla Bolognese’, consisting in a skewer with mortadella and cheese, breaded and fried.

Mortadella: The Mortadella mousse (crt-01) Mortadella: The Mortadella mousse (crt-01)


The Mortadella mousse.

Mortadella is extremely important in the preparation of many specialties: one of the most delicious is definitely the ‘Mortadella mousse’, also known as ‘Mortadella foam’ (‘spuma di Mortadella’), whose recipe is registered at the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Bologna. Its recipe, in addition to the cold cut, requires the use of other ingredients such as Stracchino cheese, salt, pepper and parsley.


The right slicer.

Mortadella: Flywheel slicer Berkel.

The ‘slicer’ is one of those tools whose birth is closely related to the industrialization process that, in the period between the end of the Eighteenth and the Nineteenth Century, deeply transformed many production sectors, including the food industry. The new device answered the pressing need to cut cured meats quickly and effectively, avoiding the use of knives. The identity of its inventor is uncertain, some scholars attribute it to a Bolognese mechanic, Luigi Giusti, who may have created the first prototype in 1873. Other experts attribute it to the Dutch entrepreneur Wilhelmus Adrianus van Berkel, founder and owner of the Van Berkel’s Patent Company Ltd., who not only patented the slicer but, starting from 1898, began to mass-produce it.

WebFoodCulture: the most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.

The most typical specialties, the most traditional restaurants and producers.

Mortadella with and without pistachios (crt-01) Mortadella with and without pistachios (crt-01)


With or without pistachios?

According to the producti specification, Mortadella Bologna PGI can be prepared both with and without pistachios. It’s just a matter of taste: sales statistics clearly indicate that its presence is particularly appreciated in central and southern Italy.

Mortadella and cinema (crt-01; img-02) Mortadella and cinema (crt-01; img-02)


Mortadella and cinema.

In 1971 the great Italian director Mario Monicelli dedicated one of his most successful comedies to Mortadella by naming it, not surprisingly, ‘La Mortadella’. The movie tells, among other things, the vicissitudes of the protagonist, played by the famous actress Sophia Loren, who tries to bring the sausage with her during a trip to the United States.


Many types of Mortadella.

As already mentioned in the paragraph dedicated to its history, Mortadella is, in all probability, the most illustrious ‘descendant’ of a kind of salami well known and much appreciated at the time of ancient Rome and perhaps even before. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that this specialty has evolved differently in different locations of the Italian peninsula, giving life to many ‘types’ of Mortadella.
In addition to Mortadella Bologna, which is definitely the most famous of all, among them we remember:
The Mortadella from Prato PGI (characterized by the use of Alchermes liqueur in the preparation);
The Mortadella from Amatrice PAT and the Mortadella from Val d’Ossola (two types of Mortadella much similar the classic salami);
The Mortadella from Ragusa (made with donkey meat);
… and many others.

Mortadella: Many types of Mortadella (crt-01)


Bologna, the city of Mortadella.

Over the centuries, the Italian city of Bologna, home of Mortadella Bologna PGI, has earned many nicknames:
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  • ‘The Learned’ (‘La Dotta’) with reference to its University, the most ancient in the world;
  • ‘The Fat’ (‘La Grassa’) with reference to the great quality of its cuisine;
  • ‘The Towered’ (‘La Turrita’) with reference to its many towers, built in medieval times;
  • ‘The Red’ (‘La Rossa’) for its political leaning and the color of its ancient palaces;



Mortadella: Consorzio Mortadella Bologna (crt-01)

This article is the fruit of the collaboration between WebFoodCulture and the Consorzio Mortadella Bologna, the organization that brings together the most traditional producers of the specialty. The information provided illustrate the actual characteristics of the product.

Mortadella Bologna PGI: how is made? Printable schema.


Mortadella Bologna PGI: how is made? Printable document.

Click here to view (and, eventually, download) a printable document showing the steps necessary to produce Mortadella Bologna PGI.

Mortadella Bologna PGI: production areas (crt-01)


The production areas.

According to the product specification, the production of Mortadella Bologna PGI must necessarily take place in the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, Lazio and in the Province of Trento.

WebFoodCulture: only the most typical and traditional food & wine.



Zucchini with Mortadella Bologna mousse.

Here follow an interesting video showing how to make some delicious zucchini with Mortadella mousse. (video published courtesy of Consorzio Mortadella Bologna)

Mortadella Bologna, calories and nutritional values (crt-01)


Mortadella Bologna, calories and nutritional values.

One hundred grams of Mortadella Bologna PGI have 288 calories. This specialty contains lipids, fatty acids (mostly polyunsaturated, the best for health), proteins and vitamins (B1, B2, Niacin). There are also potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc and phosphorus.


The FICO Factory.

Thanks to the fruitful collaboration between Consorzio Mortadella Bologna and FICO Eataly World, the food theme park located in the province of Bologna, it’s possible to see first-hand how the famous cold cut is made (more info).


Music by Rossini to accompany the specialty.

Not many know that Gioacchino Rossini, one of the most famous Italian composers, deeply loved not only music but also food.

Although born in Pesaro, he considered himself Bolognese by adoption and, as such, he knew and appreciated all the local specialties, including ‘Tortellini’ (which he enjoyed preparing by himself) and, obviously, Mortadella. A selection of his most famous musical compositions is, therefore, the most appropriate choice to accompany the reading of an article dedicated to the famous cold cut:

Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.


A museum for Mortadella Bologna.

Mortadella Bologna boasts a centenary history, full of great charm. It should therefore come as no surprise that on 24 October 2019, during the celebrations for the 358th anniversary of the notice in which Cardinal Girolamo Farnese recognized its value, an entire wing of the Museum of the City of Bologna at Palazzo Piepoli was dedicated this specialty.

Mortadella: The look and the scent of Mortadella Bologna PGI.


The look and the scent of Mortadella Bologna PGI.

Mortadella Bologna PGI is a sausage (cold cut), made exclusively from pork’s meat.
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Its shape can be cylindrical or oval. The internal surface is bright pink, characterized by many white ‘dots’ (‘quadrettature’), consisting of adipose tissue (the ‘lardelli’), which gives the specialty its typical sweetness. The scent is intense, aromatic, slightly spicy.

Mortadella: Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Mortadella Bologna (crt-01)


The Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

In July 1998, the European institutions assigned the ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ (PGI) to Mortadella Bologna, thus recognizing the close relationship between this specialty and the place where it’s produced.
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The quality level is guaranteed by the strict observance of the product specification that, at the same time, protects the consumer and defends Mortadella from imitation attempts.


Consorzio Mortadella Bologna: information.

The ‘Consorzio Mortadella Bologna’ was founded in 2001 after the assignment of the IGP Mark, occurred in 1998. As the representative of the manufacturing companies, its main tasks are the promotion of the specialty and the defense from the imitation attempts.

Mortadella: Consorzio Mortadella Bologna (crt-01)


Consorzio Mortadella Bologna: contacts.

Address: Milanofiori – Strada 4 – Palazzo Q8, 20089 Rozzano – Milano
Tel.: +39 02 8925901


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The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.

The following images are public domain:

img-01 (*) – Marcus Terentius Varro, 116-27 B.C. (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
img-02 (*) – Publicity photo of Sophia Loren, 1955 (Wikipedia Link) {PD-US}
img-03 (*) – Gioacchino Rossini, 1865 (Wikipedia Link)

The following images are made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication:

cc-01 – Portrait of Girolamo Farnese, 1657-1672. Image owner: Rijksmuseum (Wikipedia Link)

The following images are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0):

cc-02 – Legio III Cyrenaica, New England. Image owner Caliga10 (Wikipedia Link)

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crt-01 – Images published courtesy of Consorzio Mortadella Bologna.

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Images published courtesy of Consorzio Mortadella Bologna.

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(**) Image released in public domain by its author.