Give Bologna a Second Chance

Humble, but tasty

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By David Hammond

Your bologna may have a first name, as the old Oscar Mayer jingle goes, but most bologna has a bad name.

Bologna is inexpensive – I bought a pound of the pale pink circles at Pete's for one dollar – so maybe that's one reason why it's considered low class, substandard, cheap eats. I used to eat bologna all the time when I was a kid. When I went to work in a Bensenville factory after college and before graduate school, it was in my lunch just about every day.

Then, for several decades, I didn't eat bologna again…until I came across it in the early 21st century at Taste of Melrose Park. Stopping at Siciliano's Fried Bologna stand became an annual ritual. The fried bologna sandwich was just the griddled lunch meat and onions, splashed with mustard, on white bread, so simple and tasty.

The deliciousness of the fried bologna sandwich started me thinking about the basis for bologna's bad name.

There is nothing ignoble about the history of bologna, which goes back to at least the 15th century, and no one thinks twice when mortadella (basically bologna dotted with small islets of fat) shows up on a charcuterie plate.

Still, bologna got a bad name, reflected in the phrase "bunch of baloney," which in common parlance refers to "Falsehoods, nonsense, or foolishness. Baloney in this sense might have originated from the word 'blarney,' which means flattering or nonsensical talk; more usually it refers to bologna sausage, which is blended from different meats, therefore implying content of inferior or dubious quality. Primarily heard in the U.S."

Unfair. Bologna is not always made from different meats: Boar's Head and Hebrew National, to name just two brands of higher quality bologna, make all-beef versions.

And the same U.S.D.A. standards that apply to all meat products apply to bologna, so it's not correct to say the quality is "dubious."

Let's face it: bologna is not classy, but that's exactly why I like it. It's humble. Frying it in a pan elevates it just a smidge, crisping it and bringing out its lush fattiness, rendering it more than just the cheapest meat in the deli case.

One year at Taste of Melrose Park, Don Nielson, whose family runs the Siciliano's Fried Bologna stand, let me behind the counter to make a few sandwiches. The trick, he told me, is to notch the bologna slice so that it doesn't bubble up on the hot grill but rather lies flat on the griddle and ultimately the sandwich.

Nielson also advised me that I should buy "the cheapest bologna you can find. We once tried using a better grade of bologna, but nobody liked it."

I'm not sure exactly why that is, but it may be that less expensive varieties of bologna contain more fat, and thus they crisp up better and may be, simply, tastier. Or maybe, with fried bologna, what we're going for is not so much exquisite taste but pleasant memories of when our bologna had a first name.

You can celebrate this sometimes maligned meat on National Bologna Day, October 24.

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