Yesterday I was taken to the small town of Casatenovo, a mere 30km from Milan, to the Vismara production plant, a large producer of famous deli and cured meats including Mortadella, Salami, Pancetta, and Prosciutto Cotto (cooked ham).
Being a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I have seen my fair share of meat production plants, which are always an eye opening and sometimes alarming experience…but being a trained professional I put my apprehensions of industrial meat plants behind me and jumped in for the ride.
We arrived a bit late from Parma (after a grueling 2.5 hr drive) but quickly met up with the director of Production for an intensive tour of the plant. “A voi piace la Mortadella?” “Do you like Mortadella?” he asked. The truth is, Mortadella has never been one of my favorite Italian Salumi, made in a similar way as the hot dog, Mortadella is constructed from the fat of a pig’s throat, in combination with lesser cuts of the pork (including tripe, lean cuts, and sometimes unused organs). Of course there is the addition of various spices and pistacchio, but needless to say, this product is not easily loved by all.
He guided us through the production line, in and out a labyrinth of rooms that varied in temperature extremes; cold refridgerators, hot ovens, freezing meat grinders…my body was in shock.
I watched small cuts of meat travel up a ladder-like conveyor into a huge pit where they were then ground into a paste and spiced with a mixture of typical spices, including pepper, salt, coriander, myrtle, and nutmeg. The smell was surprisingly quite good. After the pieces of throat fat were cubed and added to the meat mixture, it was fed into large plastic packaging tubes (think enormous hot dogs) and sent into the dry ovens for a slow 24 hour cook.
Though I have seen what seems like an infinite amount of meat processing plants for products like Prosciutto di Parma, various salami, and Culatello, I had never seen the production of Mortadella and I must say it was definitely an experience.
Though Mortadella contains some choice cuts of meat, I must say that in comparison to the American bologna this is a 100% natural product, no nitrates in sight. If you’re a fan of bologna, it is worth your while to try the real stuff, while it is not a health option, it is definitely better for you than it’s fake, chemical filled cousin.