The pig. Where would we be without this generous animal? The diverse flavors created by the, in my opinion, underappreciated swine, are precious to life. I do not want to think about living in a world without prosciutto, mortadella, or guanciale, to name a few. So I wont. Instead in this series of blogs, I will take the time to revere this creature who has added much to cuisine around the world. “Moi?” (alla Miss Piggy’s voice). Si, tu! Come, let’s get piggy with it.
This past September on a research trip with Casa Mia, I was introduced to Culatello. I think I am in the majority of Americans who have never heard of this gift that the pig has giveth. Now that’s a tasty pig bum. I implore you take the opportunity to read my colleague Eleonora’s blog, Culatello, noble buttocks. It will give you a taste of what this extraordinary behind is all about. It is a rare export, but if you happen to be in Chicago, I did see it on the menu at a fantastic restaurant, Maple & Ash. However, in all honesty it should be tasted in Parma. Did you know we can set that up for you?
Leaving the behind, behind, let’s move on. Growing up, bologna and cheese was a staple in the White household. According to my now veganish friend Jessica, my mother’s bologna and cheese sandwiches with mayo were a delicacy. I wonder if she would eat one now, given the very rare opportunity. As I grew older, I came to disdain bologna and all that was associated with it including the weird, larger, thinner bologna with white spots. Eww. Mortadella. If I knew then what I know now…
Mortadella, what would I do without you? I hadn’t had Mortadella in longer than I can remember and still perceived it as bologna’s weird cousin until I travelled to Bologna for the first time 5 years ago. Taste buds rejoice. I could not, nor could my travel pals, get enough of this savory, salty, pillowy cloud of a salumi. We consumed it at every meal. I have become a mortadella advocate state-side and converted many a fan. This Christmas I made a charcuterie board full of all the essentials, mortadella included. My nephews devoured the mortadella! They dismissed the prosciutto, for which I will forgive them at this point in their young lives. However, I was truly impressed/kinda annoyed that they ate all of the gorgeous mortadella with pistachios. But, if I can teach them anything in this world, aside from sharing mortadella, is to appreciate the pig. I think it’s working.
The history of mortadella is well established. In 1661, the recipe for Bologna was codified by Cardinal Farnese whose foresight was spot on. Fast forward three centuries to 1998 when Mortadella of Bologna gained Protected Geographical Indication status under European Union law. Mortadella has had quite a presence in Italian history dating back to the Renaissance period, if not longer. In fact, housed in the archaeological museum of Bologna, exists a Roman slab from the first century depicting grazing pigs on one side and a pestle and mortar on the other. Its popularity speaks for itself as an estimated 160,000 tons of Mortadella are consumed in Italy yearly. This salumi is not going anywhere!
A curious looking piece of salumi indeed. Mortadella is made from choice pieces of pork which are ground down or mashed into a paste. This is quite possibly where the name mortadella came from; the Roman word, “mortar” or the Latin word “mortarium” as mortar and pestle were commonly used to grind ingredients. Once the pork is been grinded, various spices such as black pepper, myrtle berries, and coriander are added to the mixture. Select fat from the throat of the pig is used to get the infamous white pearls that speckle this masterpiece. Pistachios and whole black peppercorns are often added as well. The mixture is then inserted into casings to produce an oval shaped log. It is cooked low and slow in dry heat, after which it is cooled. Its coloring is pink and its consistency is smooth and heavenly.
What should one do with mortadella? As mentioned before, mortadella is main component on any charcuterie board I create. I ask my butcher to cut it thin, and I always buy the one with pistachios. It simply melts in my mouth. Naturally, this salumi finds it way into sandwiches and calzones. Two years ago I had the most unreal fried mortadella and cheese sandwich at Eastern Standard near Fenway Park in Boston. I have not seen it on the menu since but it was ooey, gooey, salty and sweet, finished with jalapenos. Hands down the best sandwich I have ever had. In Bologna, you will find it in your tortellini. Fried mortadella cubes is a thing…a very good thing. Truly the possibilities are endless.
I am fully aware that there are anti-mortadella-ites. Those who choose not to consume because of its appearance. Or because of the lardons. That is all flavor! Shame on you (my non-meat eating friends, this is not directed at you)! These are the times when I feel like Sophia Loren trapped at customs in “La Mortadella.” If you have not seen this movie, you must. Although it is not dubbed as one of her finest movies, if you like the mortadella, watch it. It is set during the 1970s when the importation of mortadella, along with many pig products, were outlawed due to an outbreak of African swine disease. Ms. Loren passionately defends her love for this national treasure as she takes on the United States of America. Brava, Ms. Loren. Brava!
Do not be afraid of what you do not know.
Now is the time for acceptance.
Now is the time for awareness.
Now is the time for Mortadella!