Pepperoni Roll History
pepperoni roll is a snack
popular in West Virginia and some nearby regions of the Appalachian
Mountains. Ubiquitous in West Virginia (particularly in convenience
stores), but traditionally little known elsewhere, it is arguably
the food most closely associated with the state (a competitor for
this distinction is the ramp). Fairmont, West Virginia, claims the
title of "Pepperoni Roll Capital of the World."
The classic pepperoni roll consists
of a fairly soft white yeast bread roll with pepperoni baked in the
middle. The pepperoni can be either in the form of a stick or of
several slices folded together. During baking, spicy oil from the
pepperoni suffuses the bread.
Most people prefer the rolls to be
moist but not soggy; thus, the texture of the bread is an important
factor in the rolls' quality. A typical pepperoni roll weighs about
three ounces, and can be eaten as a snack or as the main dish of a
lunch. Pepperoni rolls can be eaten cold, or can be warmed slightly
in an oven or microwave.
Some variations on the original
pepperoni roll contain cheese and/or chile peppers. In 2005, a
pizzeria in Chesapeake, Ohio (directly across the Ohio River from
Huntington, West Virginia) introduced a deep-fried pepperoni roll,
dubbed the "pepperoni zinger."
A popular legend holds that the
pepperoni roll was invented in the 1920s by Giuseppe Argiro, owner
of the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont. Some historians have
disputed this claim. However, it seems highly likely that the dish
originated among the coal miners of north-central West Virginia in
the first half of the twentieth century.
The pepperoni roll bears a
resemblance to the pasty and sausage roll, which originated in the
mining communities of Great Britain, as well as to the Italian
Calzone. All these foods allow a miner on a break from a tiring and
dirty job to eat a full meal with a minimum of fuss. Pepperoni and
other Italian foods became popular in north-central West Virginia in
the early 20th century, when the booming mines and railroads
attracted many immigrants from Italy.
Although recipes for homemade
pepperoni rolls are available, most West Virginians buy the rolls in
shops. Most commercially available pepperoni rolls are made within
the state by small, family-owned Italian-American bakeries. The
rolls can be found in virtually every grocery and convenience store
in West Virginia. Churches and schools in the state sometimes have
pepperoni roll sales to raise funds.
Although they have recently become
better known in the wider U.S., for a long time pepperoni rolls were
seldom, if ever, seen for sale outside West Virginia. This led to
the development of an urban legend among West Virginians stating
that the rolls could not be sold in other states because of
regulations banning the sale of meat baked into bread.
Pepperoni rolls did face a legal
challenge in 1987 when the United States Department of Agriculture
proposed re-classifying bakeries that made the rolls as meat-packing
plants, thus making them subject to stricter regulations. The bakery
owners claimed that the costs of meeting the new regulations would
put them out of business. The USDA's proposal was quashed after Jay
Rockefeller, U.S. Senator for West Virginia, intervened.
In the early 21st century, the U.S.
military began including a version of the pepperoni roll in one of
the MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) provided to troops. The military's
rolls are made by a North Carolina company.