The Next Time You Bite Into A Pepperoni Roll, Thank A Coal Miner

Across the U.S., regional food staples have long been enjoyed by their respective towns and states of origin. However, for many of these rare or unique dishes, few outside the area know of their existence. For a small town in Upstate New York, its food symbol is the meaty Michigan hot dog, and for many Wisconsinites, its love of glorious fried cheese curds runs deep in the state's identity. But, tucked into Appalachia, few know about West Virginia's official state food: pepperoni rolls.

This iconic dish is made from a rustic country roll that holds thick sticks of pepperoni or sometimes spicy pepperoni slices. Appearing structurally similar to a pain au chocolat, this savory roll has long been a symbol of West Virginian pride and Appalachian appetites. While these rolls can be easily mixed up with Philly's beloved stromboli or Texas' regional delicacy, klobásník, the humble pepperoni roll is entirely unique to the Mountain State and has a fascinating history.

The history of pepperoni rolls

The history of pepperoni rolls lies strictly in West Virginia, as it's directly attributed to the Italian immigrants that voyaged to the state to work in the coal mines. The rolls' origins go back to the North Central part of the state where coal mines were plentiful, and miners needed both a filling and easily transportable lunch.

Giuseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant and coal miner, is credited with being the first to commercially produce this working man's meal. While working in the mines, many of his peers would snack on meat sticks and pieces of bread separately. However, he had the convenient idea to combine them — enter the pepperoni roll, a light yet hearty meal that miners could easily consume at work.

Today, many bakeries across the Mountain State still pump out plenty of this iconic snack, and it's near impossible to find them outside of this region. Tomaro's Bakery in Clarksburg, West Virginia, is the oldest Italian bread bakery in the state, and they dish out one of the most iconic versions of this roll. If you fear your current location will prevent you from trying this state-wide staple, plenty of the local bakeries ship their rolls out of state. It's also an easy process to make your pepperoni rolls at home for a more budget-friendly option. 

What's in a pepperoni roll?

A basic pepperoni roll is only made up of two components: the bread and the pepperoni. The roll is made from a yeast dough that is formed from a combination of simple ingredients. The final result turns into a rustic country-style roll that has a crusty exterior and soft interior. Some water (or milk), all-purpose flour, dry yeast, eggs, butter, salt, and sugar are all mixed together to form the dough.

As for the pepperoni, the original style calls for sticks of meat. It's usually cut into four separate pieces and tucked into the dough. However, it is not uncommon to find slices of meat rolled up inside instead. While this snack-like meal contains simple sticks of pepperoni encased in fluffy dough, some versions add creamy mozzarella cheese to the inside as well. Adding this decadent, oozy element gives the roll an extra-Italian flair, making it a pizza-inspired taste.

Finally, some extra-virgin olive oil should be on hand for brushing the tops of the rolls to ensure a crispy, golden exterior. Some also brush the pepperoni before rolling it inside the dough.

How to make and eat pepperoni rolls

It's not difficult to make your own pepperoni rolls at home. The first step is mixing and forming the dough. In a bowl with warm water (or milk) and melted butter, the salt, sugar, and yeast are all whisked together. After the yeast is activated, the flour is mixed in along with the eggs. When this mixture is fully combined, it's left to rise.

Finally, after growing in size, the dough can be kneaded and separated into small balls. Once sectioned and shaped, these balls are then left to rise as well. Then, the balls are kneaded again and pressed down into flattened circles. The sticks of pepperoni and optional cheese can then be pressed into the center of the dough and folded into the roll. After being left to rise once again, the rolls can be brushed with olive oil and baked to perfection.

Make sure to enjoy when the rolls are fresh out of the oven. Optional cheese can be sprinkled on top. These rolls are popularly served for after-school snacks and can be found across the state at gas stations and grocery stores for easy, on-the-road but satisfying meals. 

Apart from Tomaro's Bakery, you can find them at other bakeries, such as Kitchen Creek Bakery in Gap Mills and D'Annunzio's Italian Bread Co. in Clarksburg. So make sure to try this regional staple for yourself, whether you're on an East Coast road trip or needing new inspiration for your child's school lunches.