Mortadella is a large sausage originally from Bologna, consisting of cooked and finely shredded pork mixed with cubes of pork fat (mainly the hard fat from the neck), usually cylindrical or oval in shape. It is traditionally flavored with black peppercorns, some versions may also contain pistachios or more rarely myrtle berries. The best known version is Mortadella Bologna but there are other varieties, also made with other meats.
The origin of the name "mortadella" is debated. One theory has the name derive from the Latin term mortarium (mortar), a tool traditionally used to pound meat. This theory, proposed by Giancarlo Susini, professor of ancient history at the University of Bologna, is based on two funerary steles kept in the Archaeological Museum of Bologna believed to belong to the same monument, one depicting a herd of piglets and the other a pestle and a mortar.
Mortadella is already mentioned in fourteenth-century cookbooks, although it is probable that there were different types of mortadella made with veal and donkey meat. In 1644, the Bolognese Vincenzo Tanara, in his treatise "The economy of the citizen in the villa", wrote a recipe for mortadella where he indicated both the quantity and type of spices to use, and the doses of meat. In addition to the doses, Tanara also describes the processing of the cured meat: "one third of fatty tissues, including the bacon, are cut into large cubes, two thirds of lean meat from the shoulder and leg of the pig which is transformed into stuffing by 'sharp beating' ; after the bagging, everything is then cooked at a moderate temperature".
In 1661, to regulate production, a proclamation was published by Cardinal Girolamo Farnese, cardinal legate of Bologna, which prevented the production of mortadella with meat other than pork; the application of guarantee seals was the responsibility of the Salaroli corporation, one of the oldest in Bologna, which for some time had a mortar and pestle as its emblem.
Mortadella is a product used in various preparations, it can be eaten sliced combined with bread or cut into cubes as an appetizer. It is used in various traditional Bolognese dishes, for example it is an ingredient in the filling of tortellini, when blended it makes up the "mortadella foam" and appears as an ingredient in the Petronian Stecco.