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What is Lebanon Bologna?
Those visiting the Lebanon Valley and surrounding Central Pennsylvania region have doubtless heard about the infamous Lebanon bologna. But what exactly is this Lebanon bologna?
If you search for Lebanon bologna on the Internet, Wikipedia describes this Pennsylvania Dutch staple as “a type of cured, smoked, and fermented semi-dry sausage.” But despite this rather bland description, Lebanon bologna conjures up a flavorful array of memories for residents of the area.
“It’s sweet, tangy, and smoked,” Jessica Stankovich from Mount Joy said. “It’s a taste of home. My Opa lives in Cleveland and they don’t have Lebanon bologna. I can go to the Giant [grocery store] near Mount Joy and buy it. I’m from Lebanon, and seeing bologna on the shelves in Lancaster brings me back home.”
Bethany Houser from Jonestown, PA, described Lebanon bologna as cultivating a “sense of community.” Similarly, Blaine Shindel and Miranda Beard, both from the Lebanon area, have more personal memories of the cured delicacy. Blaine grew up with it, and Miranda thinks fondly of the Lebanon Bologna Drop that the City of Lebanon hosts every year on New Year’s Eve.
Despite its flat description on the Internet, Lebanon bologna holds a special place in the hearts of local Central Pennsylvanians and visitors to the area who have had the chance to try it.
History & Manufacturing
According to an article published in The Baltimore Sun in 2005 written by Stephanie Shapiro, some of the earliest documentation of Lebanon bologna can be traced back to the 1780s with early Pennsylvania Dutch cooking methods. In her article, “A slice of history,” Shapiro describes how Lebanon bologna used to only be produced seasonally in November. The original methods of making bologna involved cold smoking meats over hickory, apple, or beech woods. But with modern technology, it is now produced year-round, much to the joy of bologna enthusiasts.
Lauren Reed similarly describes the methods of making bologna in her article, “PA is Full of Bologna…Lebanon Bologna.” Pennsylvania Germans used their “Old World” styles of curing and butchering to make long-lasting supplies of food. Reed writes, “The preservation of foods, especially of meats, was essential to farmers in times before modern inventions such as the refrigerator and freezer. Farmers needed a meat that could withstand the heat of the summer and last throughout the year.”
Most recipes for Lebanon bologna typically contain the same, standard ingredients: beef, salt, sugar/brown sugar, spices, lactic acid starter culture, sodium nitrite, dextrose, sodium erythorbate. However, recipes can be altered to achieve different tastes, from sweet bologna, to honey bologna, to double smoked sweet bologna.
The process in which the bologna is made also affects its taste. There are currently two producers of Lebanon bologna in Lebanon County, Seltzer’s (Palmyra Bologna Company Inc.) and Godshall’s Premium Meat and Turkey Products. In July 2005, Godshall’s acquired the Daniel Weaver Company in Lebanon, a long-time producer of Lebanon bologna. Prior to this, Godshall’s also acquired the Kutztown Bologna Company in 2001.
The history of Seltzer’s Lebanon Bologna can be traced back to 1902 when the business’ founder, Harvey Seltzer, invented a unique combination of beef and spices. This original recipe which Harvey created is still handed down through the Seltzer family today, and they still continue to manufacture the bologna the old-fashioned way in smokehouses over tended fires. Seltzer’s currently holds the title of the world’s largest producer of Lebanon bologna.
Kutztown Bologna Company originated as Burkholder’s Meats in the 1940s. Later, after it was sold to Jerry Landuyt in the fall of 1979, it acquired the Kutztown name. The bologna company holds two Guinness World Records titles for the largest Lebanon bolognas produced, with one weighing 800 lbs. and one weighing 1,200 lbs.
The Daniel Weaver company has been producing Lebanon bologna for over one hundred years. Daniel Weaver started his business in the late 19th century. In addition to formulating a preservation method for Lebanon bologna to aid in commercial distribution, Weaver also established a water company which eventually became part of the local municipality, created an ice plant to help preserve food in the summer, and started an electricity company.
What do you do with it?
Just like any typical cold cut, Lebanon bologna is great for making sandwiches, or for serving on a cold cut platter as an appetizer. True Lebanon bologna aficionados have no trouble at all eating slice after slice of bologna sans accompaniments.
Snitz Creek Brewery located on North Ninth Street in Lebanon City has also taken its own spin on Lebanon bologna. The brewery partnered with Seltzer’s to release Seltzer’s Smokehaus #7. The brew boasts smoky and tangy flavors comparable to those found in the meat. It is made using grains that are smoked in the same smokehouses as the bologna.
One favorite and traditional recipe is Lebanon bologna or sweet bologna smeared with cream cheese, rolled up, and then cut to create pinwheels. It’s also popular fried and served on a pretzel roll with a piece of melted cheese. Another recipe includes the one copied below, which is listed on Seltzer’s website. However you eat it, Lebanon bologna is sure to remain a staple in the homes and hearts of Central PA locals and visitors alike.
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