by Kevin Farrell for USA TODAY 10Best

How bologna became America's favorite sandwich meat

Though pronounced "baloney" – itself an accepted spelling of the word here in the U.S. – bologna’s proper spelling betrays its obvious etymological origins. I’m of course speaking about the famed salumi of Bologna, Italy: mortadella.

So how did mortadella, the pride of Northern Italy, wind up being processed, pasteurized and whatever the opposite of perfected is, over the course of hundreds of years? This is the story of bologna – the lunchmeat.

During the Middle Ages, roughly a quarter of Bologna’s 10,000 residents were economically involved in mortadella. It's an Italian cured meat, usually served cold, made from mixing heat-cured pork and lard with any number of ingredients to form an enormous sausage.

Just how dependent was the region’s livelihood upon the mortadella trade? Well, the Catholic Church even got involved in protecting the golden (pork-based) goose, with the Pope issuing legal definitions and restrictions overseeing its production.

Italy sent some four million immigrants to U.S. shores between 1880 and 1924, but these folks aren't what connects Bologna, Italy with bologna sandwiches. That credit goes to the German immigrants who settled in the Midwest, Southeastern Canada and Pennsylvania.

These new German butchers of Pennsylvania both expanded and diluted the original heritage product, producing what was once chiefly a pork, lard and pistachio-based product from turkey, along with chicken and beef (and pork when it was accessible), dubbing it bologna.

During the Great Depression, American bologna transitioned from a Pennsylvania immigrant community lunchtime meal for farmers and factory workers to what much of the country was eating for dinner several nights a week.

The emotions tied up within the casings of these meats couldn’t be more different. Italian mortadella is a rich, silky culinary triumph, something to be sought out on decadent European holidays. Bologna, on the other hand, is struggle and transition and perseverance.

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