What The Heck Is Muffuletta?

Enjoy a taste of New Orleans with this meat-and-cheese masterpiece!

February is Mardi Gras time, when the city of New Orleans is thrust the spotlight with all its festivals, celebrations, and, of course, food! One of the more popular items served at restaurants in this region is muffuletta.  But what exactly is it?

What Is Muffuletta?

Muffuletta is the name for both the round bread and the sandwich it’s built on, that originated in the city’s French Quarter in 1906. A close look at the ingredients, however, quickly reveals that this sandwich isn’t French, Cajun, or Creole cuisine at all, but Italian. How can this be?

Being a port town, New Orleans has long been home to immigrants and foods from many countries and cultures. The muffuletta sandwich was created by Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant that ran the Central Grocery with a sandwich counter in New Orleans. Lupo created the sandwich to feed Sicilian truck farmers who sold their produce at the nearby Farmer’s Market, which was also located on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

Marie Lupo Tusa, daughter of the Central Grocery’s founder, tells the story of the sandwich’s origin in her 1980 cookbook, Marie’s Melting Pot:

Most of the farmers who sold their produce there were Sicilian. Every day they used to come to my father’s grocery for lunch. They would order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or round muffuletta bread. In typical Sicilian fashion, they ate everything separately.

The farmers would sit on crates and try to eat while balancing their small trays of food on their knees. “My father suggested that it would be easier for the farmers if he cut the bread and put everything on it like a sandwich; even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion. He experimented and found that the thicker, braided Italian bread was too hard to bite, but the softer round muffuletta was ideal for this sandwich. In very little time, the farmers came to merely ask for a ‘muffuletta’ for their lunch.

This famous sandwich of humble beginnings feeds more than farmers today, as it is making its way into delis and restaurants across the nation.

How To Build a Muffuletta for Mardi Gras Or Anytime!

Depending on where you dine, there are many variations of this popular sandwich.  Recently I had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into an impressive muffuletta for the first time.  But it wasn’t from New Orleans. It was from Battle Creek, Michigan. It was huge and fantastic, so I asked the source, Christy Stevens, of the Overtime Pub and Grill, to share what goes into this incredible layered sandwich.

“The sandwich begins with Muffuletta bread that is specially made for us by a bakery in Chicago. The bread is a large round somewhat flattened, sturdy, textured loaf that looks like a giant hamburger bun, only bigger and better, measuring 10 to 12 inches across. It is a very light bread topped with toasted sesame seeds. It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Olive salad is the first layer that goes on the sliced bread. It is made fresh daily, and consists of a blend of: Italian spices, garlic, olive oil, fresh roasted red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, black and green olives and red pepper flakes. The layer of olive salad is followed by layers of smoked ham, provolone or fontina cheese, capicola ham, and Genoa salami. Arugula or spinach is added just before serving to keep it from getting soggy.”

Muffuletta is best served at room temperature. It can be served whole, halved or quartered with a side of Italian dipping oil. The muffuletta is very popular for serving large groups and company parties. This huge sandwich can be cut into 10 servings or up to 20 for party trays.

If you can’t find a restaurant locally that serves muffuletta, you can try making your own in honor of Mardi Gras. Prepared olive salads are available in the deli section of most major grocery stores.

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Deborah Tukua

Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.

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TERRY

Don’t forget about da Gabagool… Faggettaboutit

seth wells

these are great sandwiches used to get them at Mcalisters deli but they quit selling them also very much like a Schloskys

Madeline

Arugula or spinach? Never is this added to a muffuletta, and the olive salad is enough without adding dipping oil!

Bert Fury

Wanda, Central Grocery does not serve it hot, it’s a cold served sandwich there, and there are better Muffulettas all thru out the city of N.O. Also this article doesn’t have a clue how a true Muffuletta is made, here is how it’s really made; lean, smoked ham, sliced thin, Genoa salami, sliced thin, mortadella(which is an Italian sausage like bologna), at least two of these cheeses: mozzarella, provolone, or Swiss. Olive salad ingredients;
2 carrots cooked
1 cauliflower steamed al dente
1/2 red bell pepper lightly sauted
1 cup medium olives
8 large green olives chopped coarsley
1/4 cup juice from the olive jar
1/2 cup brine-cured black olives
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (a small jar) capers
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cups extra-virgin olive oil
let salad marinate over night in refrigerator
To make the sandwich, slice the bread crosswise, and spoon olive salad with a lot of the marinating oil onto both halves. Top with three or four slices (or more) of each of the meats and cheeses. Cut the sandwich into quarters.
it is blasphemy to put any thing else on it or in the olive salad
no arugula, or spinach, the olive salad is suppose to soak into the bread, you can either heat it in an oven (which many restaurants do, and a lot of New Orleanians prefer) or serve it cold like Central Grocery, this is facts, try it out, I was born and raised in N.O., and if you were then you should know these facts!!!

Wanda Bridges

The muffuletta is best served hot like a panini! I was raised in NOLA, and Central serves it that way. I, too, have never heard of an oil dipping sauce because the olive salad had plenty of Olive oil in it! Don’t think they use arugula or spinach either! NOLA’s Central Grocery is THE best!!

ali

You can find the bread recipe here:

http://www.food.com/recipe/muffuletta-bread-269636

Milt Fletcher

I agree with Barry I also think the hot peppers would add a nice kick to the sandwich.
I’ll have to find ingredients/recipe for the Muffuletta bread though since I’d never heard of i before.
Thanks for the article sounds good.

Cheryl

So this article was emailed to me today by the Farmer’s Almanac, which needs to take a look at a calendar.

Mardis Gras is not “just around the corner” In fact, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and Mardis Gras is O-V-E-R.

Great article on the sandwich, just needs a more accurate introduction.

Susan Higgins

Sorry Cheryl, we will correct it. Thank you.

Jeff Pauly

The bread used is interesting. I might try to find a recipe to make my own and I would do it maybe with WW flour. It is the combination of ingrediants that seem to make this unique and not just another sub-sandwich.

Cathy Schallenberg

We were introduced to this sandwich by a friend who bought us one from Central Grocery in NOLA 8 years ago, Having had the best, we found mixed results to duplicate it elsewhere but Blues City Deli, St. Louis, does the best copy. We plan to eat at Central Grocery in Mar. on a trip to NOLA again. Yum!

Kim

Your article featuring the Muffuletta and it’s origins at Central Grocery on Decatur Street in New Orleans is charming. I have been enjoying dining there for 40 years. Although, never have I been offered a side of “Italian dipping oil”!.

Barry Baker

That sandwich looks so delicious. The only thing I would add would be some hot peppers.

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