My next stop on my journey through Italy learning about how traditional foods are made, was to Bologna, to learn about Mortadella Bologna PGI. This is perhaps the city’s most famous traditional product and has been made since the 16th century.
The first rules for production were laid down by Cardinal Farnese back in 1661; this original code was very similar to the modern rules set when Mortadella Bologna gained its PGI status in 1998. The PGI (Protected Geographic Origin status means that only sausages made to the rules, and from certain traditional areas in North Central Italy can be called Mortadella Bologna PGI. The status ensures quality and protects both the consumer and the producer.
If you travel and eat well in Italy you will experience again and again that excellent food is predominately made from quality ingredients which have been simply cooked, and Mortadella Bologna PGI is no exception.
Choice cuts of Italian pork are flavoured with pepper, salt, garlic and sometimes pistachio nuts. Mortadella gets its name from mortar that the pork was traditionally ground in. These days the meat is ground by machine, and supplied frozen to the factory, but quality and tradition are still at the forefront of the process.
The frozen pork is chopped, then minced through a fine screen to form a smooth paste. Pepper, salt, garlic and the pistachios (when used) are added along with cubed fat which is taken from the throat of a hog; the hardest and best flavoured fat. Traditionally, mortadella was packed into cow’s bladders, but these days synthetic casings are used, and can weigh up to 150KG.
The traditional bladders are filled, and then tied by hand.
The man filling and tying the sausage has been doing the job for 30 years, and was going very very slowly for the film, at his usual speed it was astonishingly fast!
Once filled and tied the sausages are cooked in air ovens; they are cooked when the inside of the sausage has reached a temperature of 70C. This equates to about an hour of cooking per centimetre of sausage diameter.
Because all but the largest Mortadella hang when cooked the rounder bottom end will be softer as some of the fat will render and trickle to the bottom of the sausage.
Once cooked the sausages are sprinkled with cold water and then cooled in a special cold room before being labelled and packaged.
The proof of the pudding, or sausage, or in this case the Mortadella Bologna PGI, is in the eating and I found the it delicious – delicate, soft, fully flavoured and not at all “strong” as some sausages can be. A properly made Mortadella Bologna PGI, is also very different from some of the pink plasticity offerings not governed by the rules, which again proves that it is well worth buying the product which is certified and protected by the PGI.
I was commissioned by Sapòrem to travel to Italy and to write about and share my experience visiting their four Consortia of premium traditional Italian products, of which Mortadella Bologna PGI is one. All opinions my own.