A pepperoni roll is a snack invented in West Virginia, most likely made popular by the area coal miners who needed a portable snack that did not need refrigeration. The roll portion consists of a soft white bread, while the center contains a stick, a few slices or some ground or shredded pepperoni. The flavor comes from the baking process, when the oil from the meat soaks into the bread. This process creates a distinctive orange-red spot at the end of the roll.
Most accounts agree that the pepperoni roll was invented at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, by Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro. Although the invention date is sometimes disputed, it was most likely between the late 1920s and the 1940s. Fairmont, located in north central West Virginia, is known as the “pepperoni roll capital of the world.” In this region, the roll is widely available in grocery and convenience stores. Because of the regional popularity, church and school groups often sell these snacks for fund raising.
Variations of the pepperoni roll may include cheese, green peppers or tomato sauce. Some recipes include sprinkling the top with garlic, salt, butter or Parmesan. The original version is small, generally about three ounces in weight, and can be eaten at room temperature or slightly heated. Some regional restaurants also serve the rolls toasted, split on a plate and topped with marinara and melted cheese.
At the annual West Virginia Three Rivers Festival in Fairmont, a pepperoni roll bake-off is held. The home baked rolls are judged on taste, appearance. Many area residents have family recipes that they want to keep private. The snack is also baked commercially in West Virginia. In other parts of the U.S, the term pepperoni roll refers to a pepperoni Stromboli. This resembles an Italian calzone as well as Great Britain’s pasty or sausage roll.
In 1987, the pepperoni roll industry faced a challenge when the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed regulations that would re-classify the bakeries that manufactured the rolls into meat-packing plants. In part, intervention by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller prevented the move. Bakeries believed that the stricter regulations on the meat-packing plants would likely have put them out of business.
The original bakery that produced the pepperoni roll remains in business. The Food Network featured the Country Club Bakery in 2004. The U.S. military began including a version of this snack, named a pepperoni pocket sandwich, in its military food rations provided to troops beginning in 2002. The rolls used by the military are made by a company in North Carolina.