One Man’s Pepperoni Roll Pilgrimage
A newcomer to the state shares his experiences as his taste buds discover a cherished culinary tradition.
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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 savvy 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 to pepperoni rolls. 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 pesto. I fantasized about pairing them with a simple side plate of roasted red peppers and olives, and maybe some grilled sweet peppers and onions.