One of the founding members of the luncheon meat family is an inexpensive spiced sausage known as bologna. It is a popular alternative to more expensive sliced meats such as roast beef, corned beef or smoked turkey. While bologna is often accused of being composed of "mystery meat," it is actually made from either beef, pork or a combination of both meats. Some higher-end products may contain more exotic meats such as veal, goat or even moose. Meat used in its production is generally ground to a fine paste before processing, then extruded into a natural or artificial casing.
The name does indeed come from the city of Bologna, Italy, although natives of that city would never order "bologna" themselves. The original recipe for the sausage called for scraps of beef or pork to be mixed with spices such as salt, pepper and garlic, then cooked and stuffed into natural casings made from animal intestines. Italian butchers still create such a sausage, but it is known as mortadella.
Bologna as we know it most likely arrived with Italian immigrants who set up meat shops in the lower east side of Manhattan to earn a living. Because this sausage could be made from less expensive cuts of meat, it became a popular item for working class families trying to provide a meat item for their families on fixed budgets. Sliced bologna sandwiches could be made in the morning and consumed several hours later without the need for refrigeration.
Cheaper processed meats such as bologna and hot dogs were not always embraced by the American public, however. Horror stories involving the unseemly world of meat processing lead to a governmental overhaul of the meat packing industry. By the beginning of the 20th century, most meat processing companies were in compliance with federal health and safety laws and consumer demand for processed lunch meats rose accordingly. Bologna became a staple food for many families during the Great Depression, and it continues to be a popular item today.
Bologna can be sliced thin for sandwiches, or thick for use on heartier foods such as biscuits. Some people prefer to pan fry thick slabs of it, which gives it a different taste and texture than the cold cut variety. Basic bologna can also be mixed with various spices to create flavorful varieties such as Cajun, spicy, garlic or barbecue. It may also be combined with cheeses or pickle relish or olives to form various "loaf" sandwich meats. Heartier sausage can also be strongly seasoned with garlic and pressed into a ring-shaped casing. Ring or trail bologna is a popular summer sausage in many regions of the country with Old World populations.