Italy’s mortadella sausage is the granddaddy of our contemporary bologna, which was made with pork and lots of pork fat. It is found in every self-respecting sausage shop in Italy, and although big meat companies, such as Oscar Meyer, have altered the recipe and call it bologna, the original mortadella may still be found in delicatessens across the U.S. especially in Italian neighborhoods.
“Baloney” is an Americanized name for the Italian sausage, and in the early twentieth century it also became a popular phrase meaning”nonsense” or bogus, as in”that’s such baloney.” Creating mortadella sausage was considered an art form and only a handful of families were allowed the privilege. It was considered a major ration for Roman armies, and Napoleon is supposed to have introduced it to France. (At no time did explorer Marco Polo bring it back from China, but he might have consumed it in his native Italy.) It’s so revered in Italy a 1971 movie starring Sophia Loren was titled La Mortadella, where her character attempted to inject the sausage into the U.S. Those Italians take their sausages seriously.
Immigrants brought it with them in the late 1800’s and set up street carts, small family restaurants and butcher shops, where they offered their beloved sausages, and people of all heritages embraced them. A German immigrant named Oscar Meyer started selling his native sausages in Wisconsin and Chicago, including bratwurst, bacon and wieners at the turn of this century, branching out into more lunch meats, namely bologna, a modified and less complex version of mortadella. With the invention of sliced white bread (think Wonder), a kid’s lunch became easier, with mother slapping some baloney between two slices of bread, a smear of mayooff to college little Johnny went.
While lots of people frown upon the”mystery meat” sandwich, there is no denying that its popularity has almost a cult following (like Spam,) and don’t try telling a baloney aficionado otherwise. Throughout the Depression, bologna gained strength, as it was much less costly than salami or ham. Often made with leftover parts of meats and heaven knows what else that has been chucked into the grinder, it filled up hungry people and kept longer than more perishable sandwich fillings. Ring bologna was frequently a main course for dinner and tastier than its sliced lunch meat cousin.
Mid-twentieth century, food companies began selling chopped meats at the grocery stores, and the convenience and availability attracted overworked homemakers. No more cooking large meat loaves, baking hams or roasting beef for lunches. Grab a loaf of Wonder Bread, a package of sliced baloney, and you just saved hours of labor in your kitchen. Since mac and cheese had no travel ability, it was cold cuts for the mass majority.
Although bologna sales began declining in the 1970’s as people reached out for lower-fat and better quality meats, especially poultry and turkey, baloney is making a comeback, not only for nostalgic reasons but for its cost and availability. During a U.S.weak market between 2007 to 2009, major supermarkets throughout the nation saw a substantial growth in bologna sales. In 2016, lunch meats generated a whopping 2.01 billion dollars in U.S. sales. In the Canadian province of Newfoundland, bologna consumption makes up 35% of the entire country. In a fish-based people, this inexpensive meat is a staple. True bologna fans consider it a regular part of their diet, and they will provide you detailed descriptions on the best way to cook it (buy a whole sausage and slice it thick).
So please do not disparage this popular sausage. Maybe you don’t have great memories of it, maybe you ate an inferior brand or you just don’t like the whole notion of processed meats. But this sausage has stood the test of time. It’s pure baloney.