FOOD & WINE

Celebrating Mortadella in Bologna

Published on: October 9, 2014 | Last Updated on January 28, 2023
Photo of graphic at the Festival

Mortadella di Bologna is so closely associated with the city of Bologna that Americans often use the terms “mortadella” and “bologna” interchangeably.

There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. This was the case several years ago.

During one of our visits to Bologna, the capital city of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, we glanced out our window.

The Mortadella Festival in Bologna

We were shocked to discover that we were almost sitting on top of MortadellaBo, a one-of-a-kind, four-day festival celebrating mortadella.

Much of Piazza Maggiore, the public square in the historic center of the city, was swathed in pink with white dots, a virtual slice of mortadella.

Booths were set up in the shape of a U on three sides of the square, facing San Petronius Basilica.

Piazza Maggiore from Above

Piazza Maggiore from Above

MortadellaBo goes pink

MortadellaBo goes pink

Even the shopping bags looked like the meat!

Even the shopping bags looked like mortadella

There was something for everyone: Cooking demos and classes (using mortadella as an ingredient, of course), tastings, retail stalls, entertainment for children and families, finger foods, and a pink restaurant under a tent. 

Even the slicing machines were painted pink.

Miss Mortadella dressed in a pink dress with a mortadella motif

Miss Mortadella dressed in a pink dress with a mortadella motif

Live TV broadcast of cooking lesson

Live TV broadcast of cooking with mortadella lesson

Mortadella Finger Food

Mortadella Finger Food

Mortadella paninis

Mortadella paninis

What is mortadella?

Mortadella is a large, cylindrical, pink cured sausage  made from crushed pork and spices based on recipes that date back to the Middle Ages. The sausage also has a distinctive aroma.

In the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan explains that the name is derived from the mortar that Romans used to pound sausage meat before it was stuffed into its casing.

Mortadella vs. bologna: What’s the difference?

However, what sets it apart from the bologna we eat in the U.S., is the meat’s visible fat in the form of white cubes.

Mortadella

Mortadella

Under European law, Mortadella di Bologna (PGI) has a protected geographical indication, meaning that it can only be called mortadella if it is produced in Bologna, in other areas of Emilia Romagna, or in neighboring regions in Italy.

How is mortadella eaten?

In Italy, it is traditionally served in very thin slices (almost like proscuitto) but it is also served in cubes (with toothpicks) as an appetizer or antipasto platter. 

It is often paired with bread (making a tasty sandwich with cheese), added to salads, or used as the stuffing for Bolognese tortellini.

An article in the Los Angeles Times notes recently, mortadella has become a trendy addition to charcuterie plates and is also being paired with cocktails at bars and restaurants in the U.S.

Vendor cutting juicy chunks of the delicious meat

Vendor cutting chunks of mortadella

There were so many mortadella makers and retailers at the festival that I stopped to ask a young woman how a consumer would know how to choose one mortadella from the others.

Some of the brands on display

Some of the mortadella brands on display

“It’s just a matter of taste,” she said, “The same way some people like Coke and others like Pepsi.”

She left us with only one option, to taste as many was we could, because all the explanatory literature associated with the festival was written entirely in Italian.

A festival celebrating a sausage: Why?

Co-sponsored by many governmental and corporate entities, the MortadellaBo Festival was spearheaded by the Consorzio Mortadella, a group established in 2001 to “protect, promote and enhance Mortadella di Bologna IGP.”

Some 31 companies formed the consortium, producing 95 percent of the mortadella products consumed.

Mortadella Vendor

Mortadella vendor

We participated in one of many cooking classes on the program and learned from two excellent cooks how to make a pasta-free lasagna dish with sliced potatoes, fontina cheese and slices of mortadella.

When I asked the young woman working next to me why she was there, she sheepishly told me that she was crazy about mortadella although she acknowledged that is is often viewed as a low-brow food choice by some (akin to a hot dog in America.)

One reason for this: Mortadella is made from some of the least desirable parts of the pig, in an effort to make sure that no part is wasted.

Two mortadella lovers enjoy the dish they have cooked

Two mortadella lovers enjoy the dish they have cooked

Clearly, this event was intended to reverse the image problem of the lowly sausage.

There were lectures by doctors and nutritionists debunking myths that it wasn’t healthy. The experts explained that one serving of mortadella has no more calories that a serving of yogurt and fruit, and has less calories than a bowl of pasta.

They explained that consumption of mortadella is part of a balanced diet. The authentic product is high in protein and contains no fillers or preservatives and tastes nothing like the bologna we eat at home.

All the festival events were free. After mingling on the square with other festival attendees, we left not only with a renewed appreciation for mortadella but also a healthy respect for this unique festival that celebrates the famous Italian sausage.

Two more mortadella afficianados

Two mortadella lovers


  • An interesting factoid from Wikipedia: “Mortadella was banned from import into the United States from 1967 to 2000 due to an outbreak of African swine fever in Italy. This ban was a pivotal part of the plot of the 1971 film La mortadella starring Sophia Loren.”

What are your feelings about mortadella? Do you love it or not?


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Where to Buy PGI Mortadella

Mortadella Bologna Tradizionale, Presidio Slow Food at Dolceterra

Mortadella at Dolceterra

Mortadella at Dolceterra


Rovagnati Gran Mortadella with Pistachio at Supermarket Italy

Rovagnati Gran Mortadella

Rovagnati Gran Mortadella

Bonfatti Mortadella Bologna IGP from Amazon

Bonfatti Mortadella

Bonfatti Mortadella


IF YOU GO


[A version of this article was previously reprinted in the Huffington Post.


READ MORE

On Serious Eats: Salumi 101: Your Guide To Italy’s Finest Cured Meats

On Eater: How Lunch Became A Pile of Bologna

On Tasting Table: The Only Places That Produce True Mortadella 

Information about the Mortadella Festival in Bologna (now called, Mortadella, Please)


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  • Reply
    Nancie
    October 13, 2014 at 4:07 am

    What a great festival! The pasta free lasagna sounds so interesting, and, I bet, delicious. I’m sure I’ve tried Mortadella, but that was so long ago that I don’t have an opinion. However, if any mortadella makers need a spoke person I could become an expert very quickly! 🙂

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 13, 2014 at 8:57 am

      it is a quickly acquired taste! I hope we can find some in the Italian deli at home but I’m sure it won’t be as good~

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    October 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Obviously, this isn’t the Oscar Mayer bologna I ate as a kid. I love the fact that there’s a MortadellaBo Festival and I would love to taste the various dishes it’s included in.

  • Reply
    Lisa Chavis
    October 13, 2014 at 9:30 am

    This is awesome! A festival celebrating mortadella! We recently spent some time in Italy and at first I was afraid to try it…those white spots scared me (lol). But once I gave it a try, it was a hit! And now knowing that it has less calories than a bowl of pasta makes me feel even better about eating it…yum!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 13, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Definitely one of those foods that tastes much better than it looks!

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    October 13, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Very interesting post. I’ve not tasted mortadella but would be willing to try it. It would be fun to attend the cooking classes about it.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

      We lovely the conviviality and lively atmosphere!

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    October 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Now I know all I ever wanted to know about mortadela, a much more elegant name than baloney!

  • Reply
    Carla
    October 13, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    We don’t have enough festivals like that in the US. I do like bologna, but I think I would rather not see the fat in it. As far as it being healthy?? Well, I’m sure it tastes good. Can you buy it here in the US?

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 14, 2014 at 1:35 am

      I know you can buy it in Italian delis in New York but I wonder if the quality is as good as it is in Italy.

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    October 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve never tried it, but I definitely would! What fun! and I love the pink polkadot motif.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 14, 2014 at 1:35 am

      It was especially great to see the motif on the queen of the festival~

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    October 13, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    How interesting! And so fortuitous that you happened to be there during a festival. Your photos, as always, are wonderful. I loved the pink and white polka-dot souvenirs!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 14, 2014 at 1:36 am

      It seems that there is one festival after another on the Piazza Maggiore. We also were able to see the Saint Petronius Festival, which I hope to write about in another post.

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    October 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I worked in Italy a lot back in the 90s and we always thought it was funny that they had a huge Bolonga (Mortadella) at the highway service area right outside of Bolonga. Silly, I know, but stuck with me.

  • Reply
    Leigh
    October 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of mortadello but I am impressed with the energy that goes into pushing the product and the creative way they go about doing that – especially re the dress.

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    October 15, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    A Mortadella festival in Bologna! Who knew? Paris Hilton would love all that pink; me, too.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 15, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      You know that Italians have a great sense of style!

  • Reply
    Michelle
    October 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I love Italy, but have not been to Bologna. I’m a vegetarian so the mortadella wouldn’t be for me, but I’m sure there would be many other choices. That is a great photo of you and Bologna looks amazing.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

      Bologna is more than Bologna and Mortadella! You would love the cheeses, fruits and vegetables, Michelle.

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