Mortadella | What Is It & Why Is It So Popular?

I know what you’re thinking, is mortadella just another cold cut that is having its time in the spotlight? Maybe it is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame for now, but given time you are sure it will die down and we’ll all be back on bologna? I’m sorry to say that I won’t let that happen!

On the one hand, mortadella is a classic Italian sausage with roots in Bologna that was so delicious that even the Romans made it; it is strictly regulated to ensure the meat is 100% pork and this is all without mentioning the incredible taste it has. Compare that to typical American boloney, made of any meat you can think of and colored an artificial pink color and you should have your answer.

What Is Mortadella?

Mortadella title graphic for mortadekka

You may not think it, but mortadella once butted heads with prosciutto in the charcuterie world, where it was 3 times more expensive than even the best prosciutto. Modern advancements in the production of mortadella and lower costs of raw material have brought the price down to a much more affordable option for the average household. But that doesn’t mean that corners were cut – if anything it became much harder to make proper mortadella that you could sell in a store.

The reason for this is due to the regulatory bodies that have put in place to protect the hard-won legacy of this Italian staple. Producers are required to use 100% pork, with a minimum of 15% pork fat, and a resulting lean to fat ratio of seven to three. There are also other regulations, such as the required inclusion of:

  • Pistachios
  • Myrtle Berries
  • Oval/Round Fat Deposits
  • Black Pepper
Mortadella photograph in real life

There are a few different ways of buying, using, and displaying mortadella both at home and in a restaurant, with sliced being the most common. This is typically used on sandwiches and is by far the most recognizable way that you will see it eaten, but cubes of mortadella have also started to rise in popularity. Perfect in pasta, these cubes are often used in place of bacon or pancetta to add a rich, pork flavor to the sauce without adding too much texture at the same time.

If you are looking to replicate the smoky flavors of bacon too, then there are a few other types of mortadella that may be worth exploring, such as mortadella di Amatrice which contains a different blend of spices as well as being subtly smoked, or the garlic heavy mortadella di Prato, which contains straight liqueur! These two variants hail from Rome and Tuscany, respectively.

Another common way that mortadella can be enjoyed is as a mousse. That’s right, it is considered a delicacy and requires very little in the ways of equipment, with just a simple blender and some soft cheese being all you need to turn this cold cut into an excellent mousse.

How Can You Store Mortadella

Mortadella and mortadekka storage instructions

Mortadella is surprisingly forgiving for a 100% pork product, requiring only that it be refrigerated and, once opened, stored in an airtight container. Failing that, keeping it in the original packaging and wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap will make sure that you keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible. If you are looking to freeze it, you should consider if you really need to. A lot of deli meats and cold cuts are suboptimal choices for stocking your freezer due to the abundance of moisture and water content.

This water expands when frozen and changes the texture of the meat permanently once defrosted. Thankfully, if you plan on cooking the Mortadella once it has left the freezer then you can continue without issue. The cooking process will denature the proteins in such a way that you would hardly tell it has been previously frozen, and you will still be left with a great tasting piece of hot mortadella.

FAQ graphic illustration


Is Mortadella Healthy?

Relatively speaking, yes! Although it contains 15% pork fat, this is a good kind of fat that you should not worry about eating! When it comes to fats, there are two big players in the arena; the first is the evil saturated fat that likes to stick to your arteries and generally slows you down, and the second is unsaturated fats that should be eaten as part of a balanced diet.

Where to find It?

Due to the recent popularity boom, you can find mortadella in almost any major supermarket or deli. In the past it was a difficult meat to source and usually required befriending the local deli owner or an entire trip to Italy, however, we are now thankful that it has spread this fast because I’m not sure how many more deli owners I had left to buy it from before they started to catch on!

What Does Mortadella Taste Like?

The primary flavor is, of course, pork. However, it is a decadent and rich pork flavor that coats your mouth due to the high-fat content and emulsion process it undergoes. This meant that the taste is able to persist in your mouth for much longer than other deli meats.

Can I Replace Mortadella with Bologna?


Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we should talk about what situations could allow it, although you probably shouldn’t. The first is on a sandwich – because, at the end of the day, there are so many flavors competing for your attention that you might not notice the change as easily. Especially if you planned on enjoying it with mustard or another powerful condiment.

Another place that could feasibly allow for a swap, is in pasta. But, not every type! If your sauce relies on the rich, meaty taste of mortadella to carry it and round out the dish, then we don’t recommend substitution, however, if it is an afterthought or simply an additional flavor that you added then it is possible you can replace it. But in this case, we would recommend something like pancetta that can bring its own, different flavor.

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