Mortadella and Italian Wine – How to Combine Them

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If you’ve been following our blog over the last couple of weeks, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been shining the spotlight on a number of classic Italian foods. The likes of Parma Ham have come onto our radar – and why not? The Italians create an indelible link between the foods that they create and the wines that they drink. The culinary arts are such a major thing in the country that you can’t really talk about great Italian wine without talking about the wonderful Italian foods that go with it.

That’s why we’ve placed such a focus on different Italian foods and why we’re going to do it again with this article.

But which of the many wonderful foods should we choose? There are so many great pastas and cheeses that it’s almost too easy to choose one of those.

Instead, we’re going to stick with the meaty theme that we started last week.

So, this week we’re going to take a look at the wonderful Italian sausage meat Mortadella. And of course, we’ll offer a few wine recommendations for those of you who want to give the meat a try for yourselves.

What is Mortadella?

That’s the key question, isn’t it?

For those who’ve never come across Mortadella before, it’s a type of Italian sausage that makes heavy use of pork to create a very rich flavour.

It’s also much larger than your average sausage. Whereas the sausages that you’re used to probably fit in their entirety on your plate, Mortadella is often so large that you actually need to eat it in slices. This means that it’s often used as a luncheon meat in sandwiches and for similar dishes.

So, how it is made?

The sausage is made using a finely-ground or hashed pork, which is heat-cured during the production process. Like with many great Italian foods, that production process is actually very important. The meat has Protected Geographical Indication status from the European Union, which means there are very specific rules in place for how it’s made and where it can come from.

A real Mortadella will comprise of at least 15% of small cubes of pork fat, though many examples use even more than this. The fat traditionally comes from the hard fat that’s found around the back of a pig’s neck, though it’s not uncommon for producers to use fat from other areas of the pig as well.

The meat then undergoes a seasoning process that’s typically up to the producer to decide on. Many of the most popular varieties use spices, such as black pepper. However, it’s not uncommon for the meat to be seasoned with pistachio nuts, myrtle berries, or olives.

The sausage can come from a number of different locations, but it’s perhaps most closely associated with Bologna. More specifically, producers in Tuscany, Piedmont, Lombardy, Marche, and Veneto can make it. So too can producers in Trentino and Lazio.

Again, those locations are very important. If somebody tries to sell you a Mortadella that doesn’t come from one of these regions, the odds are high that it’s a forgery and won’t meet the quality that you should expect from the meat.

The History

As is the case with so many Italian wines and foods, Mortadella has an interesting history behind it.

Way back when, the pork that’s used to fill the sausages was actually ground into a paste using a large mortar and pestle. These are kitchen implements that are even used today, though they’re now much less efficiency that the mechanical production methods that we employ today.

Interestingly, it’s this process that apparently lends the sausages its name as well (Mortar = Mortadella). However, this is an assertion that’s come under some dispute. Some claim that the name actually stems from the myrtle that the ancient Romans and some modern producers use when making the sausage.

In fact, it’s believed that the Romans actually called Mortadella the Myrtle sausage because of the use of myrtle berries as a seasoning. Incidentally, when pepper become more widely available in the European markets, the use of myrtle berries was gradually phased out. Only the more traditional producers continue to use it for their sausage in the modern day.

It’s believed that the sausage was likely popular after the Roman era ended, but the first mention of a sausage that shares the same characteristics of Mortadella didn’t arise again until 1376.

As mentioned, the sausage originates in the city of Bologna. However, much like with wine, there are several other towns and regions that can make Mortadella. And again, much like wine, each of these regional varieties has a slightly different flavour to it. This makes Mortadella one of the most interesting meat products for those with discerning palates.

And as a final point for those of you who are wondering.

Yes, the American meat known as Bologna is a direct descendant of Mortadella, with the name of the sausage’s city of origin serving as the inspiration for the American variety.

Great Wine Pairings

The mention of Tuscany as one of the biggest Mortadella production regions should have already provided you with a clue as to one of the wines that we’re going to recommend for this meat.

But first, let’s keep it a little more general. The high fat content of Mortadella, coupled with the fact that it’s made using a rich red meat like pork, means that you need a fairly rich wine to complement it. After all, going for a wine that’s too mild will just lead to the Mortadella overpowering it.

Which brings us to our main pick. And as with so many rich meat, that pick is Chianti. Perhaps the most legendary Tuscan wine, Chianti offers a perfect complement to the richness of Mortadella.

Of course, there are other options for those who don’t like Chianti. A good Sangiovese is also ideal for pairing with Mortadella. If you’d rather drink a French wine, Côtes du Rhône is a good choice.

Whatever your choice may be, we’re sure that you’ll enjoy the richness of the meat.

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