pepperoni roll page header

From West Virginia Living Magazine
celebrating life in the mountain state
fall 2009 - p74-76

wv miner
The author enjoys his new discovery..

One Man's Pepperoni Roll Pilgrimage

Written by Peter Agostinelli
Photography by Rebecca Devono and Nikki Bowman

A newcomer to the state shares his experiences as his taste buds discover a cherished culinary tradition.

I confess - as a newcomer to North Central West Virginia, I'd never heard of pepperoni rolls. But I daydream endlessly about food, and I'm Italian to boot, so I set out on an adventure in search of this esteemed culinary creation. And although I'm wired to believe that good bread is my birthright and that every meal is better with some type of salt -cured pork product, I wasn't prepared for my reaction to the marriage of the two.

I began my journey by doing what any savy writer would do - I Googled pepperoni rolls. I quickly learned that they were invented in the early part of the 20th century as long-lasting food that coal miners could take with them to work. They made for an easy-to-pack lunch that helped the miners get through their long days. I then stumbled across, Bob Heffner's excellent online tribute. I was so intrigued that I called him.

Heffner informed me that the pepperoni roll was allegedly invented in Fairmont at the Country Club Bakery. "I grew up half a block away from the Country Club Bakery - an easy walk even for a grade-schooler," Heffner says. "One of my favorite memories is the smell of fresh-baked bread wafting through the neighborhood. Many times my mother would send my brother and me to buy a dozen pepperoni rolls. The counter person would hand you the bag of 12 then give you one unwrapped so we could eat one before we got home. It was a true baker's dozen."

Now I was ready to hit the road.

My first stop was Country Club Bakery.

My order came fresh from the oven on an early weekday afternoon. They were warm and yeasty, comforting in my hands on a dreary rainy day. After smelling the fresh bread... well, to put it bluntly, I was really hungry. And this is what I learned: pepperoni rolls are far more than the simple snacks they appear to be on the outside. Underneath that crusty exterior is something special - a glorious, greasy, and puffy interior - plus the heart and soul of this region's Italian-American history.

That's when it occurred to me that pepperoni rolls represent what I respect about casual foods that are also well-made. They're the ones that work as a snack or light meal. They're enjoyed easily in your hands, so they make sense if you're sneaking lunch at your desk or in a parking lot before a football game. Pepperoni rolls are like the Swiss Army knife of snack fare. You can pile them on a plate for a family sitdown. They're great in their natural state, or you can fancy them up with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Better yet, they're perfect for dunking and dipping, in a basic tomato sauce, gooey melted cheese, or a simple pesta. I fantasized about pairing them with a simple side plate of roasted red peppers and olives, and maybe some grilled sweet peppers and onions.

But then I wondered, "Is that a foul in the pepperoni roll rulebook?" Is there such a thing as a bad pepperoni roll? I quickly learned there are strong opinions on what makes a pepperoni roll authentic. And yes, there is a rulebook.

Chris Pallotta, a Fairmont native who bought the Country Club Bakery 13 years ago from its founding family, believes in that authenticity. "What I always tell everybody is that a real pepperoni roll is made with a stick of pepperoni and freshly baked bread," he says, pointing out the necessity of fresh dough - never frozen, he says - and pepperoni sticks not the thinly sliced pepperoni found in some versions. When pulled hot from the oven, Country Club's legendary pepperoni foils are perfectly crusty, just like any good Italian-style bread, and the pliable interiors are filled with those faintly spicy pepperoni sticks. It's impossible to eat just one. I managed to sample four (okay, maybe five) in 25 minutes or so.

"It's a convenient food for people," says Fredda Martin, sales manager at Tomaro's, a Clarksburg bakery that produces rolls capable of sending lines out the door. (By the way, Gourmet magazine featured Tomaro's in 2007, so you know it's the real deal.) Martin also notes they're appealing as a solid value, and in a down economy, it's reassuring to know that $3 can buy a few minutes of comforting nourishment.

If it's even possible, I think I fell more deeply in love when I realized as I headed south through the mountains and valleys around Elkins and Roanoke how easy pepperoni rolls were to eat while driving. I charitably hid them from my girlfriend, who was fiercely hanging on to her strict diet just hours before a fitness competition. Of course, I bet the next time I won't be able to hoard them. But that's okay.

I like to share new things, especially when it comes to good food. In a nation where people flock to predictable fast food restaurants and drive-through windows, there's something timeless and refreshing about places like Tomaro's of Clarksburg and Fairmont's Country Club Bakery

"It amazes me when I hear the stories from people who have moved away from West Virginia," Heffner says. "They remember pepperoni rolls fondly, like it was yesterday. They usually had a specific bakery where they bought and ate them - or a grandmother who made them on a chilly autumn day. Their memories of such a simple thing are so vivid. I'm always surprised that they don't bake a batch and recapture a little bit of their past."

I couldn't agree more.


Tomaro's and Country Club Bakery are just a few of the West Virginia bakeries that supply pepperoni rolls to area restaurants, convenience stores, and even big-box retailers like Kroger and Wal-Mart. They also ship them frequently to transplanted West Virginians.


Tomaro's Bakery
411 N. 4th St.
Clarksburg, WV

Oliverio's Peppers
427 Clark 51.
Clarksburg, WV 26301

Country Club Bakery
1211 Country Club Road
Fairmont, WV 26554

Rose's Bakery
345 Holland Ave.
Westover, WV 26501

Chico Bakery
331 Beechurst Ave.
Morgantown, WV 26505

Home Industry Bakery
128 5. 3rd 51.
Clarksburg, WV 26301

Colosessano's Carry Out
506 Pennsylvania Ave.
Fairmont, WV 26554


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

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