From the Times West Virginian
Fairmont, West Virginia
Saturday, May 25, 2008
BY Mary Wade Burnside
Judge Sam Patsy (left) samples a pepperoni roll made by Gene Kubiet (right), who won first place Saturday afternoon during the Amateur Pepperoni Roll Bake-Off, part of the 2008 West Virginia Three Rivers Festival.
PHOTO BY TAMMY SHRIVER
Pepperoni roll event growing in popularity
Number of contestants, prize money up in second year at Three Rivers Festival
FAIRMONT — Sandra Scaffidi Pitman had to move from her New York home to Fairmont to find people who could pronounce her Italian maiden name easily.
And maybe Fairmont needed Pitman to show them a thing or two about making the hometown delicacy that has won the city widespread acclaim, during the Amateur Pepperoni Roll Bake-Off, part of the 2008 West Virginia Three Rivers Festival.
After only experimenting with recipes for a couple of weeks, Pitman won third place during the contest.
However, she had an experienced judge at home in her husband, Fairmont native John Pitman.
“I’ve eaten pepperoni rolls all my life,” he said.
He even used the food — pepperoni wrapped in bread — to woo his wife, a native of Milton, N.Y., whom he met when the two worked for the same company.
“The first time he came to New York to visit my family, he brought pepperoni rolls,” Sandra said.
Sandra Pitman has been hard at work testing recipes, from using different ingredients for the dough to figuring out how to let the pepperoni pack the most punch.
Her secret? Using both ground and stick pepperoni.
“You want pepperoni in every bite,” her husband said.
“I think I made you gain six pounds,” she replied.
She also sprinkled parmesan cheese on top, along with salt, butter and garlic. Onions in the dough had a good after-taste but made the first bite a little overwhelming.
“We didn’t want to overdo it,” Sandra said.
Her feat of winning third place only a few weeks into her amateur pepperoni roll baking career snagged Pitman $100, the same amount that went to the first-place winner during last year’s inaugural throw-down.
This year, a sponsorship from Elite Cleaners allowed festival organizers to increase the prizes, said contest coordinator Janie Merendino. That means first-place winner Gene Kubiet got $300 and second-place winner Lee Ann Dennison won $200.
Both Kubiet and Dennison had a head start in their approaches. Kubiet has been making his rolls for 10 years, while Dennison used the same recipe that her grandmother and mother did.
“We’ve been making them the same way for years,” she said of her pepperoni rolls, which feature provolone cheese, sweet peppers and homemade bread.
None of the three winners had entered last year’s contest, which had 12 contestants. This year, there were 19. That meant employing more judges than last year’s three. That way, no one had to sample 19 pepperoni rolls, which could prove overwhelming both to the digestive system and to the palate. Instead, each sampled four and selected the best of their batch. Then all the judges crowned the winner from those five pepperoni rolls.
Serving as judges this year were Sam Patsy; Elite Cleaners owner Paul Viglianco; West Virginia Association of Fairs & Festivals secretary Debra Gard; and the queen and teen queen for the festival, Jessi Pierson of Milton and Brigitte Morris of South Charleston.
Pierson had a small breakfast while Morris skipped hers completely.
“I wanted to save room,” she said.
Both noted that as southern West Virginians, they did not grow up in the pepperoni roll tradition as much as if they hailed from North Central West Virginia.
After all, Fairmont has been called “the Pepperoni Roll Capital of the World,” as some consider Giuseppe Argiro of Country Club Bakery to have invented them in the 1920s.
But you don’t have to grow up with a particular kind of food to know what tastes good, although combining fresh bread, pepperoni , and in some cases, cheese, peppers and/or sauce can make for a lot of good eating.
“It was very hard,” Pierson said. “I had two that were the best and it came down to appearance. One had a tablecloth, so that’s what the tie-breaker was.”
Prior to the start of the contest, Merendino told the judges that looks counted. A contestant could win a total of 150 points based on appeal to the senses, taste and presentation. The top three had 130, 126 and 124 points, Merendino said.
And although the third-place finish made the Pitmans “ecstatic,” Sandra noted, she will be busy perfecting her pepperoni roll recipe.
“We’re going to work hard for next year,” she said.
Copyright (c)2008 Times West Virginian