S e a r c h


The history of muffoletta bread

LOS ANGELES, California, USA — An understanding of Sicilian bread requires a little understanding of history.

Sicilian emmigration

In March, 1861, the prosperous Kingdom of Two Sicilies (Sicily and Naples) was defeated by Garibaldi (the famous Italian), who merged Sicily into Italy.  During the next 30 years, Italy ruled Sicily harshly, and many residents lost hope as Sicily lost its prosperity.

Beginning in 1890, thousands of Sicilians began to immigrate to the United States in order to escape the poverty, punitive taxation and anti-Sicilian policies of the government and to seek better lives in the New World.  Many thousands of Sicilians immigrated to New Orleans.

Note:  Sicilians did not consider themselves wholly "Italians" until after World War II.  Thus before 1945, the muffoletta was a type of Sicilian rather than Italian bread.

New Orleans baker

Around 1900, a Sicilian baker by trade – whose family name has been lost in history -- immigrated to New Orleans and began to bake and sell various types of Sicilian breads, probably at first selling the bread from a pushcart.  This Sicilian baker sold round muffoletta loaves as well as other types of Sicilian bread, such as long braided loaves.  In the beginning, the Sicilian baker sold bread directly to the local residents, including Sicilian laborers and farmers who worked at the nearby Farmers Market.

Some claim that LoGiuduce, who opened the Progress Grocery on Decatur Street, was the baker who imported and baked the first muffoletta in New Orleans.  See notes below.

Every morning, the workers would buy a loaf of bread for their lunches and then stop at one of the local groceries on Decatur Street to buy some meats, cheeses and olive salad.  For lunch, the workers ate everything separately, as was their tradition.

Central Grocery's sandwich

One day, the owner of the Central Grocery, Lupo Salvatore – himself a Sicilian immigrant -- made an agreement for the Sicilian baker to supply bread to the Central Grocery, which then re-sold the bread to its customers.  With that agreement, the Sicilian baker became a wholesaler, and the workers no longer bought their bread from the Sicilian baker but from the Central Grocery, where the workers bought all their lunch ingredients: bread, meats, cheese and salad.

In 1906, Lupo Salvatore decided to combine these ingredients into a sandwich.  He decided to use the muffoletta bread, because of its ability to hold the filling without leaking.  To make each sandwich, Lupo filled a muffoletta loaf with olive salad, meats and cheeses;  then he wrapped the sandwich in paper; and then he sold it as a muffoletta sandwich, except that he misspelled the name as muffuletta.  After all, Lupo was a grocer, not a baker and thus not familiar with the spellings of the many Sicilian breads.  In any event, even when misspelled, the muffoletta sandwich was so much easier to carry that it became an immediate, major success for the Central Grocery.

Note: Muffoletta, muffuletta, muffelata?  What’s in the spelling?  That which we call a muffoletta by any other spelling would taste as great.  (With apologies for Wm. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act ii, Sc. 2.)

Progress Grocery

Because muffoletta sandwiches were such a success, other groceries – including the nearby Progress Grocery – also began to sell muffoletta sandwiches.

The other famous New Orleans sandwich, the po-boy, dates from the 1920’s and so is not as old as the muffoletta sandwich.

Over the last century (1903 – 2003), history lost the name of the Sicilian baker who first baked and sold muffoletta bread in New Orleans.  But history did not lose the name of the Sicilian grocer who first introduced the muffoletta sandwich to the world:  Signor Lupo Salvatore, owner of the Central Grocery.

Today in New Orleans

Today, a visit to the Central Grocery and a taste of the original, authentic muffoletta sandwich is a “must” for every New Orleans visitor.

Joe O'Connell is senior research specialist for Muffoletta Ltd., the official resource for information about the authentic muffoletta.

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