What Is Mortadella?

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Sliced mortadella meat on cutting board
Sliced mortadella meat on cutting board (Image: eZeePics Studio/iStock/Getty Images)

A familiar presence in high-quality delis, Italian mortadella is a large sausage dotted with pistachios and large white pieces of fat. It's an example of a type of sausage called "emulsified" by butchers, meaning it incorporates a quantity of water into the finely ground meat to give it an extra-smooth, moist consistency when finished. The mixture is studded with pistachios and large pieces of fat to lend visual and textural contrast to the meat's uniformity.

It's Not Bologna

Hailing from the city of Bologna, one of Italy's great culinary centers, mortadella is in fact the inspiration for the "bologna" familiar to Americans. Don't be misled by your feelings about that lackluster lunchmeat, because mortadella isn't simply "Italian baloney." Supermarket bologna bears no more resemblance to its forebear than "processed cheese food" shares with the world's great cheeses. Good-quality mortadella, shaved into thin and meltingly tender slices, is an entirely different experience.

Get Acquainted

To find out what this classic sausage tastes like, visit the best delis and Italian markets in your area and ask for recommendations. There are two classic versions, Mortadella di Bologna and Mortadella di Amatrice, with distinctively different seasonings. Buy small portions from several different makers, labeling them carefully so you know which is which, and taste them in turn to see which is your favorite.

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