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Legends about Muffoletta

RIESI, Sicily, Italy — Many "urban legends" surround the muffoletta.  The Internet speeds such legends to all parts of the world, and these pages will describe the legends and correct the record.

Origin of the word

The origin of the word "muffoletta" (and its many spelling variations) are subject to many legends.

Most English dictionaries claim (erroneously) that the word is derived from the Italian word muffa, for a kind of mold that grows on bread, with the diminutive suffix etta.  However, this would give the word muffetta, rather than muffoletta.

In fact, muffoletta originates from the Sicilian word muffola, which means a round, fingerless mitten.  With the addition of the diminutive suffix, the word became muffoletta -- note the spelling.  The alternate spellings, such as “muffaletta” and “muffuletta”, are corruptions of the proper spelling. 

The muffoletta describes a kind of Sicilian bread that resembles a fingerless mitten – about 10” round and flat, with a dense interior.  The form and texture of the bread makes it ideal for stuffing with cheese, meat or fish.  Bakers sometimes call this shape a “pocket loaf” or, in this case, a “mitten loaf”.

Where the bread was invented

Many people claim that the word originated in New Orleans around 1900 to refer either to the bread or to the sandwich.  Some people claim that muffoletta was the name of the baker in New Orleans who first made the bread, while others claim that it was the name of a favored customer at the Central Grocery in New Orleans, where the muffoletta sandwich was first served.

In fact, the word originated long before 1900 and far away from New Orleans.  For hundreds of years, devout parishioners in central Sicily have celebrated the festival of the muffoletta on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, November 11.  In Reisi and the province of Caltanissetta, residents prepare the muffoletta -- special bread rolls, seasoned with fennel seeds (not sesame seeds) and filled with sausages, ricotta, or other meats and cheeses.  Thousands of these rolls are offered to the crowds of visitors who come to taste the newly-made wine produced in the area.

This is similar to the French festival of the new wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, which is also celebrated each November.

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

Related information

  • See the muffoletta FAQ





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