The Pompatus of Pepperoni – West Virginia

Pepperoni rolls are to West Virginia as lobster is to Maine. What!? You’ve never heard of pepperoni rolls? A pepperoni roll is delicious soft dough, formed into a little loaf, baked with pepperoni and a little cheese inside.

Pepperoni RollsImmigrant baker Giuseppe Argiro, who opened the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, WV, may have been the first person to create the snack perhaps as early as 1927, although others claim it was not until the 1940s. The rolls were said to sustain the mostly-Italian coal miners who needed a portable, filling lunch to eat down in the mines. The Country Club Bakery is still in operation to this day and bakes between 250 and 900 rolls per day.

 Senator Jay Rockefeller takes credit for saving the pepperoni roll and many West Virginia bakeries from their demise. In 1987, the USDA wanted to reclassify pepperoni roll bakeries as meat packers. The change would have forced small, family-run bakeries to meet more stringent meat processing sanitation standards, and would have cost bakeries thousands and thousands of dollars. Senator Rockefeller wrote an impassioned letter to the USDA, who eventually relented on the plan.

The pepperoni roll is ubiquitous throughout the Mountain State and you can find them at gas stations, convenience stores and delis. Head to Morgantown on a football Saturday to watch West Virginia University, and you are apt to see tailgating fans splitting open pepperoni rolls and topping them with burgers, hot dogs or chili.

We’ve used our favorite bread dough recipe here; if you must cheat you can use frozen dough. Lots of variations on this recipe exist. Stick pepperoni seems have a slight edge over sliced. We also used mozzarella cheese which is very popular but others swear by pepper jack. Go for it if you like spicy.

The trick to the pepperoni roll is rolling them up. Place a few sticks of pepperoni over the cheese-covered dough, by the outer edge.

DSC_0012Slowly roll up, adding pepperoni as you go.

Rolling up Pepperoni Rolls

 

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This way you will have pepperoni evenly distributed throughout your roll.

If you want to indulge in all things pepperoni, head to Fairmont, WV, May 22-24, 2014, for the West Virginia Three Rivers Festival which features an amateur pepperoni roll bake-off as well as a pepperoni roll eating competition.

Thanks to my neighbor CB, a native of Beckley, WV, who assisted us with this recipe.

Pepperoni Rolls

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

For dough:

  • 4 to 4/1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 packages yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 egg

For filling:

  • Pepperoni stick, approx. 8 ounces
  • Mozzarella cheese, 12 ounces, diced

 Instructions

In large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt and the yeast. Warm the milk, water and butter to 105 to 115 degrees. Add to dry ingredients. Beat mixture for 2 minutes with electric mixer on medium speed. Add the egg and 1/2 cup flour. Beat for another 2 minutes. With a wooden spoon, add in enough flour (between 2 and 2 1/2 cups) to make a soft dough. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Cut pepperoni into inch pieces, then quarter each of them so that you have at least 8 smaller sticks of pepperoni per roll (8×16 rolls=128 mini pepperoni sticks).

Work with one half of dough at a time, keeping unused dough covered. Divide dough in eight equal pieces. Roll out onto a floured surface to about 8×12 inches. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of cheese. Place 2 mini sticks of pepperoni on short side, then roll, place another 2, roll again. Repeat twice more. Pinch seams closed. Place rolls seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Repeat with other half of dough.

Cover finished rolls with a tea towel and let rise about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

 

 

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