Where bologna got its name

Among the mysteries about bologna that I have wondered about (never mind the mystery of what’s in it; probably better not to examine too closely) is what difference there might be between bologna and baloney. There is apparently none – it’s just another way to say the same thing. And it’s named for the city of Bologna, Italy, because it is a variation on mortadella, which is made there.

Mortadella is different in that it has visible pieces of pork fat, and it is flavored with spices such as black pepper, myrtle berries, nutmeg, coriander and pistachios. I know bologna has plenty of fat in it, even though it’s not in pieces big enough to see – that’s why I hardly ever eat it (plus I’m the only one in my family who really likes it). I can’t imagine why someone would want to see the chunks of fat.

I don’t know what seasonings are used in bologna (I read that it’s essentially the same meat as hot dogs but a different shape), but I’ve always liked it – at least the Oscar Mayer version. And speaking of where bologna got its name, I found out today where Oscar Mayer got its name – from Oskar Mayer (who died 54 years ago today).

I guess I had always figured that Oscar Mayer was just a handy name for the company, like Betty Crocker. (I once made a comment about Betty Crocker, thinking she had founded the company, and was promptly advised of my mistake.) After all, how could you have a wonderful jingle that everyone knows (“My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R …”) if you were stuck with a name like Country Store Brand or Stiglmeier?

Young Oskar got his start in the meat business at age 14, working for George Weber in Detroit. Within ten years, he and his brother Gottfried had their own meat market in Chicago, where their wurst was very popular among their fellow German immigrants. In 1904 their company was one of the first to brand their meats. (It’s hard to imagine today, but very few items used to be sold under brand names.)

When the company introduced the world’s first pre-sliced and pre-packaged bacon in 1924, their market share soared. They’ve kept right on introducing new products and even new product categories – such as children’s combination lunches, with their Lunchables, introduced in 1988. For several years Lunchables were one of my favorite lunches, especially the Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers. I couldn’t afford the price very often – or the fat content (20 g) – but they were a special treat when I needed a lunch on the go (cheaper and probably healthier than going to McDonald’s or Burger King).

One of their more recent product introductions that has become a staple in our house is deli style cold cuts. Each of us has different taste in sandwiches, but one we all eat is turkey and cheese. Finding a style and brand of turkey that we all would eat was a challenge, though. When Oscar Mayer came out with Deli Fresh Smoked Turkey Breast it was a winner in the Evans family, and I do my best never to run out.

If you now have that Oscar Mayer jingle running through your head, I apologize (it’s running through my head too). Of course, you can always displace it with their older jingle, “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer weiner…”


2 Responses to Where bologna got its name

  1. Margaret Packard says:

    When I was visiting England as a teenager, the family I was staying with prepared a sack lunch for me, with cucumber and cheese sandwiches. I had never had that combination before, but I like it.

  2. Karen O says:

    They don’t make jingles like they used to!

    Margaret – My younger daughter, Chrissy, & I are fond of tomato & cheese sandwiches, with mayo (of course). And I’ve always liked cucumber & mayo sandwiches, so I’d probably enjoy one with cheese, too.

    Mayo is the only condiment I use on sandwiches, even with liverwurst or bologna or others that “some people” think should only be accompanied by mustard. (I don’t spread it on too thickly, though.)

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