The history of muffoletta bread
First posted 3 July 2003 at 1840 GMT
Last updated 26 July 2003 at 0022 GMT
By Joe O'Connell,
LOS ANGELES, California, USA — An understanding of Sicilian bread
requires a little understanding of history.
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
Because muffoletta sandwiches were such a success, other groceries –
including the nearby Progress Grocery – also began to sell muffoletta
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, 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.