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Pepperoni Roll History

Pepperoni RollThe 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.

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