Traditionally, the pork filling was ground to a paste using a large mortar (mortaio [morˈtaːjo]) and pestle. Two Roman funerary steles in the archaeological museum of Bologna show such mortars. Alternatively, according to Cortelazzo and Zolli Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana 1979-88, mortadella gets its name from a Roman sausage flavored with myrtle in place of pepper.
The Romans called the sausage farcimen mirtatum (myrtle sausage), because the sausage was
|Mortadella with olive|
Mortadella originated in Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna; elsewhere in Italy it may be made either in the Bolognese manner or in a distinctively local style. The mortadella of Prato is a Tuscan specialty flavored with pounded garlic. The mortadella of Amatrice, high in the Apennines of northern Lazio, is unusual in being lightly smoked. Because it originated in Bologna, this contributed to the naming of the American meat "Bologna sausage".
A similar commercial product that omits the cubes of pork fat, called Bologna sausage, is popular in the United States. A variety that includes olives and pimentos is called olive loaf.
Mortadella was banned from import into the United States from 1967 to 2000 due to an outbreak of African swine fever in Italy. This ban was a pivotal part of the plot of the 1971 film La mortadella starring Sophia Loren. The title for the United States release was Lady Liberty.
The ban in the United States was lifted due to the Veterinary Equivalency Agreement that allowed countries to export products that had been shown to be disease-free as part of an overall agreement that would allow products deemed safe in the United States to be exported to the European Union.