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Pepperoni Roll article from the Kentucky New Era Newspaper
Hopkinsville, KY
Fall 2003
Jennifer P. Brown

Precious cargo
'Bakery bandit' smuggles goodies across state lines

A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I transported a load of pepperoni rolls across the West Virginia-Kentucky state line. They were in the trunk.

Technically, as far as I know, I didn't break any laws. But it sure felt like it. It was wonderful. I was a little like a bakery bandit or maybe a culinary interloper with a precious cargo that oozed a spicy sweet aroma.

First, some history.

In the central part of northern West Virginia, pepperoni rolls are a staple. Slightly shorter than a hotdog bun, and a little fatter, they are baked in small, family-owned Italian bakeries and usually sold by the dozen. In towns like Shinnston, Clarksburg and Fairmont, the pepperoni roll is as important as burgoo is to Hopkinsville.

According to one story, published in a state guidebook called "Way Out in West Virginia," Guiseppe "Joseph" Argiro made the first pepperoni roll in 1927 at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont. The region owes its large Italian population to the migration of mine workers more than a hundred years ago.

For many of the miners, the pepperoni roll was a nearly perfect food to haul down into a rugged underground mine. It was portable. It didn't fall apart. It didn't spoil. It was delicious. It was the depression-era version of a lunch snack pack.

An authentic pepperoni roll holds three or four long, greasy sticks of pepperoni, cut in pencil-thick sticks. The bread is slightly sweet.

If you've had a so-called pepperoni roll from one of the convenience stores in Western Kentucky, you were actually eating a counterfeit version. It probably had slices of dry pepperoni that fall from the pizza-dough bread like thin poker chips.

If you want a good pepperoni roll, you have to find a good Italian bakery in West Virginia.

My great aunt, who lives in Shinnston, recommends Marty's Bakery. On my last trip to visit Aunt Bobbie, she said I should wait until I was headed back to Kentucky to get my pepperoni rolls. They'd be fresh, she said.

Marty's Bakery, a white block building hidden in the corner of a parking lot off Interstate 79 near Clarksburg, W.Va., was on the way home. When I walked into the place just after it opened around 10 a.m., they had five dozen pepperoni rolls in an old-fashioned glass case. When I walked out a few minutes later, they had none.

After a stop in Lexington to visit my daughter, my cargo was one dozen rolls lighter.

The next day, after I doled out several more at the Kentucky New Era, I was down to two dozen pepperoni rolls.

I told my co-workers that pepperoni rolls are best when you heat them for about 15 seconds in the microwave.

One guy didn't listen. I looked across the newsroom and saw him eating it cold, right from the plastic wrapper. I gave him another one and made him promise he would heat it up, to get the pepperoni grease into the bread, before he ate it.

He did. He's hooked.

Unfortunately, I have no more pepperoni rolls to share. The last bag is in the freezer. They will be good when the weather turns cold in November.

Jennifer P. Brown is a staff writer and columnist for the Kentucky New Era. Her column runs every Friday. She can be reached by telephone at 887-3236 or by e-mail at

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