The pepperoni roll, what I dub “Appalachia’s Secret”, has been an integral part of daily life in my hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia since the 1920s or 30s. Nobody seems to recall the exact year it was introduced.
During one of those decades, Giuseppe (Joseph) Argiro of Country Club Bakery (which is still operational) began baking small sticks of pepperoni inside bread dough. No doubt Argiro was inspired by the coal miners, who knowing how invincible the cured meat was, often took large sticks of pepperoni and chunks of Italian bread down into the depths of the bituminous ore. Argiro’s delectable result was a self-contained pepperoni bun about the size of a hot dog where the oils of the pepperoni permeated into the dough while baking – a “handy subterranean snack for miners”.
Over the years other bakeries, carry-outs, grocery stores, even gas stations in the tri-county area of Northern West Virginia, have ventured into the Pepperoni Market, so that now there is competition in town and with the nearby regional cities, like Clarksburg’s Tomaro’s and D’ Annunzio’s bakeries.
In Morgantown, home of the West Virginia University Mountaineers, sports announcers claim the Pepperoni Roll as the football and basketball players’ adopted “fav” food.
Serving the rolls also became a more elaborate, competitive process. Colasessano’s of Fairmont jumped into the fray in 1950, offering a giant version with peppers in sauce, provolone cheese and even chili (hot dog) sauce inside. The success of Colasessano’s – first nurtured by the original owner known nationwide as “Spider” - has been long-lived, evident by the recent expansion of a large second restaurant.
West Virginians are passionate about their state’s “unofficial official food”. Pepperoni Chic hopes you will be too… and enjoy the authentic pastas of Calabria, Italy – birthplace of Argiro and my grandparents.
Having owned an Italian restaurant for years and working alongside many Italian chefs and owners,
I am well aware that what Americans recognize as pepperoni does not exist in Italy. Even though I am second generation Italian, I have always strived to be authentic and true to the classic cuisine of my Mediterranean ancestors.
However, in the case of Pepperoni Chic, my loyalty lies with my Italian-American predecessors. Pepperoni is the lynchpin of Pepperoni Chic and the history of Italian immigrants in northern West Virginia.
The complement of Calabrian cuisine to the pepperoni roll is logical. Even though pepperoni is actually an Italian-American invention, its similarity to the classic spicy salame of Calabria is undeniable.
Its exact origin is cloudy, but food experts believe pepperoni came on the food scene in the early 1900’s, created by Italian butchers in American cities. The dates also coincide with the inception of the pepperoni roll in Fairmont by Calabrian immigrants