Mortadella Bologna has a centuries-old history and is unsurprisingly considered to be Bologna’s most famous traditional cured meat. The origins of the Mortadella Bologna PGI can be traced back to ancient Etruscan Felsina and the Gallic Boii’s Bononia (the Etruscan and Roman names for Bologna respectively): a land filled with oaks that provided tasty acorns to the numerous local, wild and domesticated pigs. This extraordinary, internationally renowned cured meat could only have been invented in a place where many pigs roamed free.
There are several different hypotheses regarding the origin of the name Mortadella:
1) The Archaeological Civic Museum of Bologna preserves the first evidence of what is believed to have been a Mortadella producer: a stele from the Roman imperial era depicts seven piglets on a pasture on the one side and a pestle and mortar on the other. Since the Romans used mortars to crush and knead pork with salt and spices, it can be deduced that the name of this tasty deli speciality was obtained from the word mortarium or better still from murtatum, which means meat finely minced in a mortar.
2) Another theory is that the name derives from the word myrtatum, the Latin term for myrtle. Myrtle was an aroma used to substitute the more precious pepper in the aptly named farcimen myrtatum cured meat. Even in those days, farcimen myratum was a well-known and widely appreciated cured meat; both Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) and Varro (116-27 BC) mentioned it.
The first genuine Mortadella recipe was provided in the early seventeenth century by Vincenzo Tanara, an agronomist. The precise ingredients were indicated, and the fat content was much higher than it is today.
In 1661, Cardinal Farnese issued a public notice that codified the production of Mortadella; this was one of the first examples of a product specification, with similarities to the current ones used for the PDO and PGI schemes.
The Guild of Salaroli, one of the oldest guilds in Bologna, were the first to produce and affix the guarantee seals; their emblem featured a pestle and mortar. A couple of centuries ago, Mortadella Bologna was a product reserved only for an elite of gourmets, noble families and the rich bourgeoisie, who could afford a high-priced cured meat that was more expensive than prosciutto. This was due in part to the value of the raw material and in part to the production costs, as highly specialised artisans were needed to produce the product. It was only after the cured meat industry gradually started to develop during the nineteenth century that it became a popular product that was accessible to everyone. The Mortadella sandwich even became the most beloved snack of the working class.