My Citizens, while it is certainly true that your beloved Leader – the zealous gourmand that is TFD! – delights in multi-Michelin star meals, I am equally fond of simple food pleasures that pack a real taste punch.
These delicious treats from West Virginia certainly fit that description! Before describing them in detail, a bit of history on how an Italian dish became the state’s unofficial dish of record!
As noted on fatbackandfoiegras.blogspot.com:
My great-grandfather was a foreman in the West Virginia mines near Welch, and he was responsible for a large group of men, many of whom who had immigrated to West Virginia in the early 1900’s in order to find steady work with then booming King Coal. It’s estimated that during this time over 27 different nationalities were represented throughout West Virginia with nearly half of this population originating from southern Italy.
By 1910, there were more than 17,000 Italian immigrants throughout the state. In fact, there were so many Italians living and working in the West Virginia mines, that for a time, the Italian government maintained a consular office in the northern part of state to oversee their interests.
As further noted on cbsnews.com:
According to West Virginia folklorist and food blogger Emily Hilliard, the first pepperoni roll was created in 1927 by Fairmont, W.Va., baker Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro, who came from Calabria, Italy, and was a former miner. He had observed miners eating pepperoni with bread, and decided to combine the two, to make it more portable. The bakery he founded, Country Club Bakery, is still in operation today.
With more detail now about this dish of dishes: the pepperoni roll is a snack popular in West Virginia and some nearby regions of the Appalachian Mountains such as Western Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, and Appalachian Ohio. It is ubiquitous in West Virginia, particularly in convenience stores, and is arguably the food most closely associated with the state.
The classic pepperoni roll consists of a fairly soft white yeast bread roll with pepperoni baked in the middle. During baking, the fats in the pepperoni (which are hard at room temperature) melt, resulting in a spicy oil suffusing into the bread. Pepperoni rolls are typically eaten as a snack or as the main dish of a lunch either unheated or slightly warmed.
The rolls originated as a lunch option for the coal miners of north-central West Virginia in the first half of the 20th century. Pepperoni rolls do not need to be refrigerated for storage and could readily be packed for lunch by miners.
Pepperoni and other Italian foods became popular in north-central West Virginia in the early 20th century, when the booming mines and railroads attracted many immigrants from Italy. The pepperoni roll bears a resemblance to the pasty and sausage roll, which originated in the mining communities of Great Britain, as well as the Italian calzone.
Variations on the original pepperoni roll may contain different types of cheese, peppers, etc. The pepperoni within can take several forms, including a single stick, several folded slices, or shredded or ground meat.
Pepperoni rolls faced a legal challenge in 1987 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed reclassifying bakeries that manufactured the rolls as meat processing plants, thus subjecting them to stricter regulations.
The bakery owners said, however, that the costs of meeting the new regulations would put them out of business. The USDA’s proposal was quashed after Jay Rockefeller, U.S. Senator for West Virginia, intervened.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. military began including a version of the pepperoni roll in one of the MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) provided to troops. In the late 2000s, the U.S. Army changed the pepperoni roll to its First Strike Ration. These rations are designed for light infantry, airborne, and special forces during a typical 72-hour patrol.
The pepperoni roll’s compact size and comparatively high nutritional return make it an ideal ration for these patrols. These rations were extensively employed during Operation Enduring Freedom. The military’s rolls are made by a North Carolina company.
Now, it is a rare recipe indeed that TFD doesn’t seek to improve upon – this is no exception. Since this is a more luxurious version of the WV classic, I call mine “Greenbrier-style”, after the unmatched resort of the State. My father loves this place by the way and a secret bunker there used to be designated for use as a shelter for Congress in case of nuclear attack! Learn more here.
To start with my changes, I like to use cultured butter in the dough, as it helps tenderize the end result even more! My favorite cultured butter is this one. Or, you can also make your own – learn how here! I am VERY finicky about my pepperoni – this is my favorite brand.
These next changes may not find favor with die-hard West Virginians, but I like them and they are totally optional. To start, I like to brush the rolls once they are out of the oven with an herb and garlic butter. Specifically, it’s my recipe for the classic escargot butter from France.
Then after that I like to go back to the Calabrian roots of the recipe and lightly sprinkle some Calabrian sea salt on the rolls, which is coarse sea salt mixed with hot red Calabrian pepper, fennel and black pepper. For the record, this WV recipe appears to be a derivative of the classic Italian lard bread that TFD is also VERY fond of!
I hope you enjoy my uptown version of this classic of Appalachia, my Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo