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From Wonderful West Virginia
the premier magazine about the Mountain State,
published monthly by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
March 2007, Volume 71, Number 3

wv miner
Pepperoni rolls started as a snack for miners.

A Taste of Home

By Christy McCloud West

Editor's note: We are pleased to present another delightful entry from our Feeling Left Out? Contest, written by Harrison County native Christy McCloud West in tribute to a Mountain State culinary gem.

Like so many others who have moved away from home to conquer the world, I, too, get homesick now and then. I grew up in Harrison County just outside of Clarksburg. When I moved away 10 a years ago, I knew I would miss some little things I had always taken for granted: my mom's home-made hot dog chili, my grandma's perfect iced tea, and visits with my favorite aunts on lazy Sunday afternoons. But there was one childhood pleasure that I had not counted on giving up: the pepperoni roll.

If you live in north-central West Virginia, you know exactly what I'm talking about, The pepperoni roll is simply the world's most perfect food, Tender, juicy mounds of spicy pepperoni are wrapped inside a chewy, yeasty dough, then baked to golden perfection. The only thing better than the original pepperoni roll is one with hot pepper jack cheese baked inside to give it that extra kick of flavor. The pepperoni roll with cheese is my personal preference, but any kind is acceptable.

Among the brands you'll find are Julia's (my favorite), Abruzzino's, and Tom's. These perfect treats are readily found at every Go-Mart, 7-Eleven, Dairy Mart, grocery store, and no-name gas station between Weston and Morgantown. Sometimes they have their own shelf next to the bread or close to the register. Most often they're sitting in a cloth-lined wicker basket right on the counter; so you can't possibly miss them when you check out. The only time I've seen stores come close to running out of them is at the start of hunting season. They're the perfect snack for the deer hunter on the go, When you run in quickly to pay for gas, get a fresh cup of coffee, or try your luck with a lottery ticket, you'll see them waiting for you, Try to ignore them, I dare you.

Like many West Virginians, I seldom left the comfort zone of my hometown area during my childhood, With the abundance of pepperoni rolls everywhere I turned, imagine my dismay when I moved away and I found out they were not available everywhere, My first big job away from home took me to Syracuse, New York. There I found nice antique stores and great fried fish but no pepperoni rolls, When my career took me to New Jersey, once again I was out of luck, They had' great submarine sandwiches, which they called hoagies, but no pepperoni rolls. The WaWa convenience stores in the Philadelphia suburbs had the best coffee ever but no pepperoni rolls. In Indiana, I was introduced to the culinary pride of the Hoosier State, the pork tenderloin sandwich. It is good, I have to admit, but it's no pepperoni roll.

I met my husband in Indiana and, coincidentally, he has family in the Eastern Panhandle of the Mountain State. The first time we returned home together for the holidays, I told him I would run in and get some pepperoni rolls while he pumped gas. He looked at me like I was speaking Latin, Pepperoni rolls? I explained to him that I always get pepperoni rolls when I come back to West Virginia for a visit. I was amazed to find that he had never heard of them.

Now, it's one thing for people in other states to not know about pepperoni rolls, but my husband spent the summers of his childhood in Hardy County. This made no sense to me. I had to investigate.

After doing some research, I discovered that pepperoni rolls are a regional delicacy not even known statewide in West Virginia. Who knew? These tasty gems originated in Fairmont as an easy, portable snack or lunch for coal miners. According to Jeanne Mozier's book Way Out in West Virginia, Guiseppe "Joseph" Argiro invented the roll in the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont in 1927. One of the top pepperoni roll makers in Fairmont today claims that the treat wasn't invented until the 1940s but confirms that it originated at the Country Club Bakery.

Pepperoni rolls are individually wrapped, mess free, easy to put in your pocket, and filling, and they don't require refrigeration, If that isn't enough to qualify for the world's most perfect food, don't forget that they're delicious too! It's like having a little pizza in your pocket whenever you want it. I should not have been surprised that they originated in the north-central region of the state, which is home to a large Italian population, Indeed, Clarksburg hosts the Italian Heritage Festival every year on Labor Day weekend.

Lots of big cities are known for famous foods they do especially well. Buffalo has chicken wings, Chicago has thick-crust pizza, and Philadelphia has the cheese steak sandwich, But why should big cities get all the accolades? Should I spread the word about my hometown region and try to get everyone in the country to start making pepperoni rolls? Should I advertise, protest, and promote pepperoni rolls until someone hears my plea? I don't think so. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea that the pepperoni roll is a hidden treasure.

There's something very comforting about making the long drive home for the holidays and stopping at the GoMart to get that treat I've been longing for since my last visit, As a displaced Mountaineer, it makes me proud to know that my home place has something special to offer that's all its own.

So the next time you're driving along Interstate 79 between Weston and Morgantown, head for an off ramp and pull into the first gas station you see. You won't be disappointed.


Christy McCloud West graduated from West Virginia University in 1989 with a degree in biology, She is a scientist at a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis, Indiana.

You can read the rest of this issue of Wonderful West Virginia, available in libraries or direct from the Wonderful West Virginia web site.

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