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Pepperoni Roll article from the Times West Virginian
Fairmont, West Virginia
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Vicki Smith, Associated Press Writer

Fairmont 'pepperoni roll capital of the world'
Most bakers have loyal corps of customers

FAIRMONT - Monica Ferri remembers the day seven years ago when she was introduced to something called a "pepperoni roll." She was baffled by the description.

"I said, 'What do you mean, a roll with meat in it? ... What's the big deal?... says the now-veteran nibbler from Cranberry, Pa.

"But they're so good!" she says. "You can't eat just one."

Portable, petite and easy to eat, the pepperoni roll is the perfect road food. No sauce to slop. No fries to drop. Just a piece of bread with'spicy meat baked inside.

A pepperoni roll is not a stromboli. It is not a calzone. It's not a pizza pocket or even a pizza roll. It's made of bread, not crust, and tends to be about 6 inches long. Though some contain mozzarella, provolone or hot pepper cheese, that's as complicated as they get.

Once a mainly regional snack food, its popularity has grown over the years, reaching neighboring states and towns across America. But only Fairmont dubs itself "pepperoni roll capital of the world," and its bakers are competitive and protective of their recipes.

At least three families in north-central West Virginia boast that an ancestor invented the pepperoni roll, though such claims are tough to prove.

"But it was definitely in West Virginia. Without a doubt!" says baker Steve D'Annunzio, a native who now shares the family goods with a growing number of customers in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Many people credit Italian immigrant miners with inspiring the roll.

Headed underground for grueling shifts in the northern coal fields, the miners needed something to fill their bellies without weighing them down. Something requiring neither refrigeration nor heat.

They began wrapping bread around pepperoni sticks, and some say the bakers took note.

Today, the region produces tens of thousands of rolls daily.

Traveling contractor Clem Ferri, who introduced his daughter-in-law to the treat, prefers to bake his own but has sampled pepperoni rolls in several states.

"I'll eat any of them. I like them all," says the 56-year-old from Peters Township, Pa.

But when it comes to availability, "there's no question West Virginia is super-concentrated," he says.

"They're in every nook and cranny here - every place you stop for a cup of coffee."

Marianne Moran, director of the Marion County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is so certain the pepperoni roll was invented in Fairmont that she put it on the cover of a tourism brochure two years ago. This year, it shares space with two other famous natives, Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton and legendary blues pianist Johnnie Johnson.

For travel shows in Cleveland or Toronto, Moran hauls boxes of individually wrapped rolls - some from Country Club Bakery, some from Main Street Sweets, some from Foodland. People always drift over for samples.

"They say, 'What is it?' ... Well, what's in it ?" she says. "They've never seen anything like it I've never had a person who did not like one."

The bread varies with the baker: It can be light and airy, slightly crispy or dense and sweet. The pepperoni can be ground, sliced or cut in rectangular strips thinner than a pinky finger.

Some people like to dress the rolls up, filling them with tomato sauce and sweet peppers, then baking them hoagie-style with melted cheese.

"One of my personal favorites is to slice it and broil it with butter, and have it with eggs in the morning," says Chris Pallotta of Fairmont, who bought Country Club Bakery from the Argiro family in 1997 and uses the same, nearly 80-year-old recipe.

"But the best way to eat a Country Club pepperoni roll is right out of the oven," he says.

On that point, bakers agree: For the pure pepperoni roll experience, eat one hot and fresh, before it's stuck in a bakery case or wrapped in plastic.

And there's one more point on which bakers are unanimous.

"I think ours are the best," says Susie Selan, co-owner of Chunky Jo's Pepperoni Rolls in Grant Town. "But they probably all say the same thing."


"My customers always tell me we have the best, so I take their word for it," says Janice Burnett of Tomaro's Bakery in Clarksburg.

"Julia's are the original, the first, the biggest, the best," declares Sam Chico III, whose company markets under his grandmother's name.

Most West Virginia bakers are of the mom-and-pop variety, small shops where crews arrive long before dawn to assemble rolls by hand. Most have loyal customers, and all have stories of West Virginia natives who stock up by the case every trip home.

"Around the holidays, there are people from all over - Florida, Michigan, Arizona, California, Virginia, Maryland," Pallotta says.

Bob Heffner, a graphic designer who built a Web site on the topic, says people nationwide are searching for places to buy the rolls.

"And every Friday afternoon at the UPS store, there are people shipping them out," he says.

Most bakers have found niches: Country Club supplies several grocery stores. Chunky Jo's sells to schools for fundraisers, basketball games and special events. Coiasessano's does brisk mealtime business in Fairmont, selling hoagie-style rolls for $3 apiece.

But nationwide expansion remains a challenge. Most people still don't know what a pepperoni roll is, Chico says, and sales pitches "in stiff board room meetings with food experts" have sometimes fallen flat.

But Chico isn't worried. He's close to a deal with a major distributor in Chicago and may soon begin sales in the Midwest, crossing the Mississippi River for the first time.

"We feel like if we can get it into the customer's mouth," he says, "the product will take care of itself."

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