Mortadella: a big meat with a mysterious reputation

It's as close to a 'mystery meat' as you'll ever find in Italy. Now, one Ottawa restaurant owner has set out to reveal the hidden secrets behind mortadella.

Sangiuccio's Genio Ienzi brings homemade mortadella to his Little Italy deli

Sanguiccio's Genio Ienzi poses with his homemade mortadella, which he's incorporating into sandwiches at his Preston Street deli — if you ask for it. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

It's as close to a "mystery meat" as you'll ever find in Italy.

For decades, some Italians avoided mortadella because it was rumoured to contain donkey meat.

Nobody knows why that misconception spread, but it didn't help that — unlike other salumi — most Italians didn't make mortadella themselves in their homes. Rather, it was left to commercial producers, primarily in the region of Bologna.

Despite the myths, for other Italians it's a beloved meat. And just for the record, it's made of pork and a complicated mix of spices that aren't common in other cured Italian meats.

Sanguiccio Deli-Café's homemade mortadella, which is 100 per cent donkey-free. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

Genio Ienzi of Sanguiccio Deli-Café on Preston Street found this out when he challenged himself to come up with a DIY version of his own. 

"They're spices I'm not familiar with. They're all foreign to me. And I had to figure that out. The research behind it, I'll tell you, nobody tells you how they make it," Ienzi said.

"You can see how they're making it to an extent, but [the recipe] it's a secret."

Ienzi needed to rely on his sausage-making skills to estimate the quantities of star anise, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, pistachio, black peppercorn, or caraway seed to use.

"It's a combination of any of the spices — but not all of them," said Ienzi of mortadella, which dates back to Roman times and is slow roasted, sometimes for days, rather than hung to dry cure for weeks.

Ienzi is serving some of the remainder of his homemade mortadella in his cold cut sandwich at Sanguiccio, if you ask for it.

But as he recently told CBC Radio's All In A Day, you can make your own "Sanguiccio-style" mortadella sandwich at home too.

Mortadella panino


  • 1 crusty Calabrese-style bun
  • Imported Italian mortadella, sliced razor thin
  • Crisp romaine heart leaves
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • Dried oregano, salt and pepper
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh garlic clove


  1. Slice open the bun horizontally.
  2. Mix the olive oil with generous pinches of dried oregano, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Spread the mixture over one or both sides of the bread.
  4. Add as much mortadella — the real stuff can be procured at Italian grocers like Nicastro's and Farmer's Pick — as you'd like. 
  5. Top with some thin slices of tomato (reserving most of the tomato for salad), a crispy leaf of romaine heart and the provolone.
  6. Serve with a salad using the rest of your tomato (sliced in thick chunks), fresh chopped garlic, and any remaining olive oil mixture as your dressing. Serves one.


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