Italy’s mortadella sausage is the granddaddy of our modern bologna, which was made with pork and lots of pork fat. It is found in each 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 can nevertheless be found in delicatessens across the U.S. especially in Italian areas.
“Baloney” is an Americanized title 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.” Creating mortadella sausage has been 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 may 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 together in the late 1800’s and put 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 kid’s lunch became simpler, with mom slapping some baloney between two slices of bread, a smear of mayo, and off to college little Johnny went.
While many folks frown upon the”mystery meat” sandwich, there is no denying that its prevalence has almost a cult following (like Spam,) and do not try telling a baloney aficionado otherwise. During the Depression, bologna gained strength, as it was considerably less expensive than salami or ham. Often made with leftover parts of meats and heaven knows what else that was chucked to the grinder, it stuffed 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 big meat loaves, baking hams or roasting beef for lunches. Since mac and cheese had no traveling ability, it was cold cuts for the bulk.
Though 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 significant 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 inexpensive 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 the diet, and they will 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. Maybe you don’t have great memories of it, perhaps you ate a poor brand or you just don’t like the whole idea of processed meats. But this sausage has stood the test of time. It is pure baloney.