What is a muffuletta and why we eat them for the day of the dead
Do you know what is a muffuletta? Yes or no, you’re in the right place! We all know it, Sicilian bread has always had that extra gear that distinguishes it for its quality and taste, and makes it famous in the whole Italian peninsula. Among the many types of bread that we can taste across the island, we can find one that has become a global institution, a real star of international bread! The Sicilian Muffuletta, a bread that has its origins centuries ago. We have evidence of muffulettas dating back to the times of the Roman Empire when Sicilian bakers used to mix doughs with recipes of Middle Eastern and Greek origin, to witness the role of the hub of the Mediterranean.
What is a muffuletta? What does it mean?
The answer to the first question is pretty easy. It is a rounded sesame loaf, typical Sicilian, very soft, fragrant and perfect to be stuffed in various ways. But what is a muffuletta, does that refer to something else as well? Muffuletta, as we already said before, has very ancient origins and it is said it was born before the Roman Empire. If we look at the etymology of the word in Sicilian language, it means “soft and spongy bread”. This definition could be connected to the French word “mou”, which is translated as soft or spongy. But there is another word from which the term muffuletta could derive, and this last one made us smile, that is “muffin”. We cannot exclude the possibility that the term muffuletta has a Saxon origin, which with the term “muffin” indicates a small bun. The muffuletta is a food that has become a symbol of our gastronomic tradition and has become a delicacy tasted and appreciated everywhere. In fact, there are no longer the parties dedicated to this bun made with semolina, suitable to be accompanied with the best Sicilian products: olive oil, cheese, salame, mortadella, prosciutto or even Panelle and why not, Meusa!
But as we said before, the muffuletta is now an international superstar, famous especially in the United States of America. In fact, there are many cities in the United States of America where it is possible to find the “muffuletta sandwich”, usually sold with a filling of giardiniera and provolone cheese, salt and pepper.
According to our sources, it would seem that it was a Sicilian immigrant, Salvatore Lupo, that made this bread famous in the US, in about 1906. Mr Lupo, shortly after landing in New Orleans, opened Central Grocery, where he started selling and serving his personal version of the famous Sicilian sandwich: Its recipe has endured for over a hundred years and consists of a generous filling of prosciutto, mortadella bolognese, spicy cured meats, sweet and sour onions, cheese and Italian olives and it was originally created to feed the Italian workers in the port of New Orleans. The way muffuletta is conceived in the United States of America, also thanks to the contribution of Salvatore Lupo, is however different from the way muffuletta is conceived in Sicily, where it refers to a precise way of dressing the sandwich, typically stuffed in this way for the feast of the dead.
Il giorno dei morti & la festa dell’immacolata
In Sicily muffuletta is generally associated to two religious feasts: the Feast of the Dead in November and the Feast of Immaculate Conception in December. On November 2, in memory of the ancient banquets which took place inside cemeteries for the “Feast of the Dead”. Generally, cemeteries are located far from towns and villages and, in the past, this involved a long journey on board vehicles such as carts. The custom of preparing banquets inside the cemeteries had as its purpose to shorten the distance with their deceased relatives and to share with them, at least for one day a year, the moment of eating, but it was also a necessity since families wanted to bring flowers to the graves of their loved ones and it was not easy to get back in time for lunch, thus giving birth to the custom of preparing a “takeaway” sandwich, the muffuletta, which could be easily eaten even while travelling.
Today, on the day of the dead, the famous muffulette are eaten in its two versions, that is “maritata” (married), seasoned with sheep ricotta cheese, but especially the most famous one, the “schietta” (unmarried), with olive oil, salt, pepper, salted sardines and caciocavallo cheese.
In Caltagirone, instead, muffuletta is linked to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th. Tradition has it that during this holiday the devout practised fasting in honour of the Holy Virgin Mary, and it became a tradition that all bakers prepared these delicious loaves of bread for children and young people to distribute in the early hours of the morning and evening between the 6th and 8th of December. What we have told you are just some of the traditions related to this delicious bread.
So to the question “what is a muffuletta”, you can answer in two different ways: in Sicilian tradition, muffuletta means a loaf of bread typically with sesame, seasoned with oil, salt, pepper, salted sardines and caciocavallo cheese. While in the most recent Sicilian-American history, muffuletta identifies a loaf of bread typically with sesame, seasoned with abundant ham, mortadella, onions, cheese and giardiniera. Anyway, whatever the answer, the result is always delicious!
Are you looking for the muffuletta recipe? Click here!