Walk into a bakery or convenience store in northern West Virginia and you’re likely to find pepperoni rolls, wrapped in a paper sack or a cellophane sleeve, somewhere close to the cash register. The Official State Food, in its plainest form, consists of pepperoni sticks wrapped in tender, slightly sweet white dough made more savory by the pepperoni oil that seeps into it during baking. Some variations add cheese and a side of marina sauce, or use pepperoni coins instead of sticks, but non-traditional West Virginians add sweet pickled peppers, chili — whatever is at hand. In a 2009 New York Times article, Chris Brake, owner of Dairy King in Buckhannon, said “I’ll put ice cream in the son-of-a-gun if somebody wants one that way.”
Sticks or coins? Cheese or no? Sauce, no sauce? The pepperoni stick or slice squabble even causes friction within families. Morgantown native Maria Scumaci recalls her stern Aunt Theresa saving some dough from bread baking days to make rolls stuffed with sticks, but when Aunt Jennie’s Pastries opened when Scumaci was in high school, she forsook her aunt’s rolls for Jennie’s sliced pepperoni version. “We bought them cold and ate them cold and without any sauce; but… they were wonderful! An after-school treat as we walked down High Street to head home across the bridge to South Park.”
Most natives can tell you the story of the invention of the handheld meal. In the early nineteenth century, Italian immigrant miners packed pepperoni and bread for their noon meal at their underground jobsites. In the 1920s Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro arrived in Fairmont from Calabria, Italy, and began baking the pepperoni inside the bread. He’s credited with creating the unique eat that was first served to miners relaxing in beer halls after long shifts. Argiro’s bakery is still in operation in Fairmont.
If you’re an expat West Virginian with a hankering for the real deal, Anna’s of Glen Elk ships pepperoni rolls made by Tomaro’s, a Clarksburg bakery in business since 1914, across the U.S. Collasessano’s, named Best of Morgantown 2012, will deliver, but you’ll have to phone in your mail order. Don’t expect next day delivery — pepperoni rolls aren’t typically mass produced. Veteran bakers can recreate the tempting treat at home from scratch, but for a fast and easy version, buy unbaked frozen dinner rolls, bread dough or pizza dough. Let it thaw, roll it out and place pepperoni sticks or slices (your preference!) in the middle. Fold the dough around the pepperoni and bake according to package directions. Remember, they’re meant to fit in your hand comfortably, so don’t think “Stromboli” when you’re rolling out the dough.
Pepperoni rolls don’t need to be refrigerated, so plan a quick stop at your local bakery or convenience store before you hit the road. They’re a heavenly addition to your tailgating menu the next time you head to a game at Mountaineer Field, or pack a picnic for a drive through the mountains or a hike in the woods.