How Pepperoni Rolls Became A Staple Dish In West Virginia

While places like California, New York, or Chicago might be obvious gastronomic hubs, there are plenty of hidden gems when it comes to the food culture of West Virginia, ranging from homestyle to haute cuisine. One of the most iconic dishes associated with West Virginia is the pepperoni roll.

This staple is tied to the coal mining history of the state, because it was a filling meal that was easy for miners to store in their lunch boxes since it didn't require refrigeration and could be taken with them underground. The first commercially sold rolls were developed around 1930 by an Italian baker named Giuseppe Argiro at the Country Club Bakery, which is still in operation today. Over time, the simple yet delicious recipe combining sticks of pepperoni and pillowy bread became so popular that pepperoni rolls are now the official state food. In fact, there is even an annual West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in September, as well as the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival in July, where local Italian heritage is celebrated, and this dish takes center stage as an important part of state history. Today, pepperoni rolls are a staple snack at parties and tailgates, and are sold everywhere from local bakeries to doughnut shops, and even most gas stations.

How to make a pepperoni roll

One of the best aspects of this signature West Virginia dish is how easy it is to make with inexpensive ingredients. In fact, you don't even need to go through the hassle of making homemade dough. The recipe has evolved a bit from the 1930s original, which was simply pepperoni sticks and bread. A modern simple pepperoni roll recipe only requires a few components — frozen dinner roll dough, cheese, and, of course, sliced pepperoni. You also need some butter and seasoning to really make the snack shine.

Each ball of thawed dough is pressed into a circle, and then filled with a few slices of mozzarella cheese and a whole lot of pepperoni. The cheese acts as a binder, but the pepperoni is truly the star of the show. It's rolled into a tight spiral, and pinched to seal off the edges. The whole thing is baked until golden brown, and when the rolls emerge piping hot from the oven, they're brushed with melted butter and Italian herbs. While they are perfect on their own, the rolls can be served with a warm marinara sauce for dipping as well.

Pepperoni rolls can be made in advance, and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. Since these make great lunches, just pop one in the microwave for about 30 seconds for a warm treat that tastes just as good as the day you made them.

Other iconic recipes from West Virginia

The distinctive fare of West Virginia spans far and wide beyond just the pepperoni roll. Buckwheat, an important crop grown in the state, is used to make pancakes, which is one of the most delicious ways to enjoy this grain for breakfast. Southern-style biscuits with gravy are also associated with the Mountain State, and Tudor's Biscuit World — an entire restaurant dedicated to this hearty dish — is considered a must-try for any tourist visiting West Virginia.

High-end chefs in West Virginia value other locally available ingredients. Elusive wild ramps and morel mushrooms can be foraged in the state's forests, and transformed into elevated dishes at elegant restaurants. State Tourism Chef Ambassador Matt Welsch from Vagabond Kitchen has incorporated ramps into everything from pesto to latkes. On the more casual side, slaw dogs, or the West Virginia dog, represent the regional hot dog style you might not have heard of, topped with chili, a scoop of creamy coleslaw, and a drizzle of mustard.