I say "close" simply because historically Mortandela, like all sausages, was a way of using up the scraps and less desirable pieces. In contrast, today’s Mortandela is a proud slice of Italian heritage and is made with the prime cuts of pork that are its due. Mortandela is in Italy’s Slow Food Presidio, a collection of foods worth noting and preserving.
Home of Mortandela
Mortandela comes from the Val di Non, a rural valley in the north-west of the Italian province of Trentino. This rural valley has developed a well-earned reputation for the quality of their apples, though there are several other culinary treasures to be found in these secluded hamlets: tortel di patate, casolet, and of course, Mortandela.
An artisan of the Val di Non
I was able to visit the butcher shop Dal Massimo Goloso on a recent visit to the region. Located in the small town of Coredo, Dal Massimo Galoso is one of the few artisanal producers of Mortadela left. In addition to the Mortandela, they also produce local sausages, speck, and both fresh and aged salumi from local meats.
Great sausage starts with great meat
While historically Mortandela was prepared from lesser cuts of meat, as a way to preserve and utilize all of a pig’s valuable meat, today at Dal Massimo Goloso the Mortandela are made using only the finest whole hams. The meat is carved from the bone by hand and then cleaned of all gristle, nerve tissue and sinew. This is local pork, farmed traditionally for its rich, sweet flavor.
Carefully handling creates a special product
The pork is then moderately coarsely ground and mixed with a simple blend of spices, which have typically included garlic, salt, and pepper -- though something like nutmeg would not be atypical. Once the meat is blended with the spice, small balls are handformed and then carefully wrapped in caul fat to ensure that each sausage is completely sealed in the fat.
That’s speck ageing above the work station and while it may be in the way, it does add a wonderful perfume to the space!
An unusual step is...
Mortandela is an unusual sausage not only because of its shape and casing, but because it is smoked, which is unusual in Italy. The smoking is rather gentle and helps to not only flavor the sausage but it also dries out the caul fat and outer layer of the sausage. This helps it to form a light skin that keeps the sausage moist through further ageing.
It's a fresh sausage
Mortandela is sold both as a fresh sausage and as an aged sausage. Here are fresh examples ready for sale. The color has taken on a gentle amber hue due to the smoking and these Mortandela exhibit the typical patty shape that makes this sausage distinctive.
...and a dried sausage
Aged Mortandela, typically about two months old, remain soft and supple. The flavor of Mortandela is rather fresh, with sweet pork complemented by subtle garlic and pepper notes, all wrapped in a layer of aromatic smoke. In the Val di Non, Mortandela is often eaten simply sliced with polenta, boiled potatoes, or the local torta di patate. In restaurants, it is not uncommon to find Mortandela as an ingredient in risotto.
Once a little-known secret
Mortandela today is being appreciated for its unique character and special place it holds in the culinary traditions of Trentino. People love their Mortandela, and it is frequently bought as a gift during the holidays, though that’s also a very convenient excuse. I bought Mortandela as a gift as well. It turns out it was just what I wanted!
It's Pig Day
No, seriously, today is National Pig Day in the U.S. And I love pigs. I love them roasted, grilled, braised, seared, and smoked, but most of all I love pigs salted and dried. Prosciutto, salami, jamon, lomo, Mortandela, and my favorite: Culatello! Culatello is sort of like prosciutto, only better. It’s the best muscle groups of a fresh ham, bound in a pig's bladder and then, if you’re lucky, hung in a barn close to the Po river, where it gains incomparable nuances from the generations of mold in that farmhouse and the subtle, slow changes in temperature and humidity that only natural ageing can provide.
To read more, go to It's Pig Day.