Italy’s mortadella sausage is the granddaddy of our contemporary bologna, which was made with pork and a great deal 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 first mortadella can nevertheless 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 word meaning”nonsense” or bogus, as in”that’s such baloney.” Quite simply, bologna sausage originated in Bologna, Italy, sometime in the late 1600’s, and its preparation was taken very seriously. Creating mortadella sausage was considered an art form and only a handful of families were allowed the privilege. It was considered a significant ration for Roman armies, and Napoleon is purported to have introduced it to France. (At no time did explorer Marco Polo bring it back from China, but he might have eaten it in his native Italy.) It is so revered in Italy a 1971 movie starring Sophia Loren was titled La Mortadella, in which 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 sold their beloved sausages, and people of all heritages embraced them. A German immigrant named Oscar Meyer began 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 child’s lunch became simpler, with mom slapping some baloney between two pieces of bread, a smear of mayooff to school little Johnny went.
While lots of folks frown upon the”mystery meat” sandwich, there’s 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 expensive than salami or ham. Often made with leftover parts of meats and heaven knows what else that was tossed into the grinder, it filled up hungry people and kept longer than more perishable sandwich fillings. Ring bologna was often a main course for dinner and tastier than its sliced lunch meat cousin.
Mid-twentieth century, food companies began selling sliced meats in 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 work in your kitchen. Since mac and cheese had no traveling ability, it had been 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 turkey and chicken, baloney is making a comeback, not just for nostalgic reasons but for its cost and availability. During a U.S.weak economy between 2007 to 2009, major supermarkets across the country saw a substantial rise 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 cheap meat is a staple.
Not to be left out is fried baloney for breakfast, or as a hot sandwich on rye. True bologna fans consider it a normal part of their diet, and they’ll provide you detailed descriptions on the best way to cook it (purchase a whole sausage and slice it thick).
So please do not disparage this hot sausage. Perhaps you don’t have great memories of it, perhaps you ate a poor brand or you just don’t like the entire idea of processed meats. But this sausage has survived the test of time. It’s pure baloney.