pepperoni roll page header

John Veasey
From the Real Flavor column
in The Dominion Post
Morgantown, West Virginia
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Shannon Tinnell

Pepperoni roll born in W.Va.

NOTHING BRINGS BACK childhood memories like the smell of warm, fresh pepperoni rolls.

I have had a love affair with this north-central West Virginia delicacy from my earliest memories. Growing up, it was a staple in my family; my mother and grandmother making them weekly.

It is no coincidence that this region is also home to a large Italian population, whose immigrant ancestors came during the Industrial Revolution to work the railroads, mills, lumber camps and coal mines. Many lived in primitive conditions. Some old photos of coal camps even show tents serving as housing. These same photos often show a handmade outdoor bread oven.

These poor, but innovative and motivated, immigrants learned to make do with what they had. It was this spirit that gave birth to the pepperoni roll. Legend has it that miners could often be seen eating bread with pepperoni - a pepper-spiced, hard and dry pork sausage of Italian origin. An enterprising Italian miner from Fairmont tried baking fresh bread with pepperoni inside. It soon caught on.

Economical, portable and requiring no refrigeration, the pepperoni roll was perfect for long days spent underground. In time, it spread beyond the Italian community. For me, ironically, it was the German side of my family West Virginia coal miners - who introduced me to pepperoni rolls.

My Italian family were mill workers from western Pennsylvania and unfamiliar with the roll. My father attended Salem College in the late 1960s and fell under the pepperoni roll's spell, spreading the magic to family members in western Pennsylvania.

As revered as it is, the pepperoni roll is a simple concoction: yeast dough stuffed with pepperoni and baked until golden and then smothered in butter. The dough can be fresh or frozen.

I use Rhodes Frozen bread or dinner rolls. They seem to consistently end up the perfect size, not too big or small.

The highest-quality pepperoni should be used. The most important aspect of a good pepperoni roll, to me, is a consistent "grease spot," preferably covering the roll's entire bottom. A sure-fire way to attain this is by putting the meat in a food processor and grinding it up into bits. Some folks enjoy additions to their rolls - tomato or chili sauce, cheese and or peppers.

There are many places to get a good pepperoni roll if you don't have time to make them yourself. The self-proclaimed birthplace of the pepperoni roll, Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, is legendary. Other local providers include Colassessano's and Abruzzino's. Beyond the takeout bakeries, the rolls can be found at restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. Pepperoni roll connoisseurs usually have their favorite spot. My husband swears by the Den in Monongah, and bemoans the passing of Morrone's Dairy Mart in the Greentown section of Rivesville.

To learn more, visit Bob Heffner's Web page at

1 bag, of Rhodes Frozen Bread dough or dinner rolls (36 rolls)
2 sticks of pepperoni, wrappers removed and cut Into chunks
1 stick of butter

Let the frozen dough defrost at room temperature.

Grind pepperoni a few chunks at a time in a food processor.

Pull off a roll-size section of dough and roll out. Spoon a heaping table. spoon of pepperoni onto dough. Close the dough around the pepperoni, shape into a roll shape and pinch seams together. Place on a nonstick cookie sheet or baking pan.

Let rise in a warm place covered with a towel for around 2 hours or doubled in size. Next, bake in a 350 degree oven 12-15 minutes or until golden. Pull from oven and smear butter over the top. Eat warm.

SHANNON TINNELL has authored a book with her husband titled "Feast of the Seven Fishes: The Collected Comic Strip and Italian Holiday Cookbook." She is a member of The Dominion Post Food Panel. Contact her at


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