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Franchise Insights

Italian Sausage: A Brief History

You knew Italian sausage was, well Italian—but did you know it dates to the time of the Romans? It’s true! One of the most popular pizza toppings in the twenty-first century has its roots in the first century BC. Multiple Roman historians, including Cicero, Apicius, and Varro describe types of sausages made by the residents of Lucania, a historical region in southern Italy. This sausage, originally known as luganega, is also referred to as salsiccia a metro, as it was commonly purchased by the meter.

Sausage-making became a staple of the Mediterranean world in the aftermath of the Black Plague, as farming contracted due to the reduction in field labor. Farmers switched to raising more stock, as this required fewer people. In addition, demand for salt meat, of which sausage was a large category, increased after the fifteenth century, as more and larger sailing vessels were outfitted for European exploration. 

Although there were certain small differences in these original Italian sausages, most consisted of ground pork seasoned with some combination of fennel, anise, red bell peppers, paprika, garlic, and red pepper flakes. While some of these spices, such as anise, fennel, and garlic were readily available in the Mediterranean, others, like paprika and red pepper flakes, were added once Europeans found these plants in the Americas. The red pepper flakes are what give the spicy varieties of Italian sausage their signature kick, while fennel is the hallmark flavor that makes it distinct from other kinds of sausage.

When large numbers of Italian families began moving to the United States in the late 1800s, they brought with them the Old World recipes for Italian sausage. It didn’t become a formal pizza topping until after the turn of the century, but it wasn’t long before Americans fully embraced the tasty and spicy salsiccia atop their pies. 

Today, Rosati’s Italian sausage is just one of eighty-seven proprietary ingredients that make our pizza the talk of the town—not just in Chicago, where we were raised, but across all 200 franchise locations. If you’re interested in serving up tasty Old World Italian sausage and other recipes, visit our franchise page today!


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