Lebanon Bologna: A Preserved Relic with Disguised Distinction

This tangy sausage is pure Americana, even if its name is baloney. Learn how an ancient Roman forcemeat ended up in packed lunches.

| Winter 2019

Shutterstock/Konovalov Yevhenii

Bologna might be the most uniform and suspicious cold cut in America. Unsurprisingly, its inexplicable texture and ignominious ingredients have made its name synonymous with nonsense. But the story of the sausage that you might associate with Oscar Mayer is actually traceable to a forcemeat that dates back to the late Roman Empire. What we’re familiar with today as “baloney” has an iteration almost everywhere in the world.

The Muddling of Mortadella

Culinary history attributes the origins of bologna to mortadella, a finely ground sausage from Italy which incorporates small cubes of pork fat, peppercorns, and pistachios. Dating back to Roman writings, mortadella was first known as farcimen mirtatum, or “myrtle sausage,” because of its characteristic flavoring with myrtle. Americans are less familiar with the delicious panoply of mortadella available because imported mortadella from Italy was banned in 1967 due to an outbreak of swine flu, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the product was available for purchase again. Even though immigrants from Germany and elsewhere brought the essential flavor profile of bologna to America in the 1800s, it had been adapted from its original form as the result of colder climactic requirements and specific cultural preferences.

Today, the flavors of mortadella can be found in frankfurters or hot dogs, olive loaf, and sandwich bologna. Familiar smooth, pink bologna cold cuts never contain whole spices, and regulation requires that bologna in America be finely ground without any visible pieces of fat. But these products are only a small sampling of the world of bologna and mortadella, which spans from pepper loaves in Spain to cha lua in Vietnam.

What’s Old Is New

In the effort to bring honor back to this delicious and versatile meat product, we’ll delve into the story of an unlikely distant relative of mortadella: Lebanon bologna. While its composition is closer to a salami than what most Americans equate with bologna, Lebanon bologna is a fermented derivative of mortadella.

Lebanon bologna originated in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, where it was developed and mastered by German immigrants known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Where Lebanon bologna gets its bologna designation is in the spices used to flavor the sausage, namely pepper, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and bay leaves. Lebanon bologna is also finely ground, though not nearly as much as a typical American pork bologna. That’s where the similarities end, for Lebanon bologna is made with beef instead of pork, and is fermented and also smoked, making it one of the most unique bologna derivatives.



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