Many years ago, while traveling through Italy, I stopped in Bologna for a quick overnight trip on my way to Venice. First off, the city is highly underrated. Streets lined with arches, thriving outdoor markets, students bustling around and some of the best food to hit Italy is made here.
As I made my way from around the city, one thing I noticed was that mortadella was everywhere. It was in bookstores, delis, fine dining restaurants, tobacco shops….you could find big mortadella, small mortadella, mortadella with pistachio, mortadella with olives. It was no surprise when a local told me that mortadella is serious business to the people of bologna. So serious that back in the 1700s, you could be tortured for trying to replicate this delicate meat that was only served to Lords and Counts.
Then, it hit me! Mortadella looks kind of like the pre-packaged deli meat, Bologna.
Then, it hit me again! Bologna kind of tastes like Mortadella. I underline “kind of” to emphasize this comparison should be similar to that of third cousins. The base is the same, but the structure is very different.
Then, another thing hit me! Why is Bologna (Baloney) spelled the same as Bologna (pronounced Boh-Lown-Ya)?
Mortadella was introduced in the U.S. in the early 1900s when immigrants brought their beloved meat over from Italy. Unable to produce this delicacy, people started producing something different. Using ground-up, left over parts from different animals, then mixing with similar spices, Bologna was born. When it came time to name mortadella’s third cousin, the homage was given to the city it all came from….Bologna. Somewhere along the way, Americans started calling it Baloney. The rise of baloney came with the invention of the vacuum sealer, introduced by Oscar Mayer. Households all over the U.S. were now able to buy a cheaper product that lasted longer. Most importantly, kids enjoyed it.
These days, Baloney is not as popular as it once was. It’s nostalgic, but most prefer other deli meats, including Mortadella!