Wake up early, get 'em while they're hot
For those who have never experienced the joy of biting into a piping hot West Virginia pepperoni roll, let me start by saying you need to change this, like now. There’s a catch, however. You can’t score a real deal pepperoni roll just anywhere. You need to get your pepperoni rolls from West Virginia, whether it’s by traveling to a local bakery or having them shipped to your hometown. While there are other bakeries and restaurants outside of West Virginia that create versions of the pepperoni roll, true pepperoni rolls can only be found within the Mountain State.
In fact, pepperoni rolls are so beloved in West Virginia they have been declared the unofficial state food. As a native who has eaten her fair share, I can say, it is a most deserved honor, and I am delighted to guide you to the best pepperoni roll in West Virginia.
So, what’s so great about the West Virginia pepperoni roll? To start, thick, spicy, sticks of greasy pepperoni are enrobed in a slightly sweet, dense, yeasty bread dough that’s baked until golden, chewy and just a bit soft on the inside. Enjoy a pepperoni roll fresh from the oven just as it is and it’s a pure delight, especially the ubiquitous red/orange grease stain where the oil from the pepperoni seeps into the dough, or go a step further and split open your roll and stuff it with an array of fillings ranging from mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce to sweet peppers topped with pepper jack cheese.
You can also do as many Mountaineers do, which is to split open a pepperoni roll and fill it with hot dog chili sauce (we West Virginians are damn proud of our hot dog chili) creating a decadent double-meat filling. While seemingly an odd mixture, I can vouch that this combo is perfectly swoon-inducing, especially when it’s topped with mozzarella cheese.
Pepperoni rolls can be found all over the state, in gas stations, mini marts, grocery stores, on restaurant menus, and of course, in local bakeries. Arguably, the best pepperoni rolls can be found in the northernmost parts of the state where they originated, specifically in the counties of Marion, Harrison, and Monongalia.
Born out of necessity and straight from the coalfields, the pepperoni roll has a rich immigrant history. Created by an Italian immigrant miner, Giuseppe “Joseph” Agiro at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, the pepperoni roll was designed to be a portable miner’s lunch, one that could easily be popped into one’s pants pocket or carried unrefrigerated in a lunch pail. While the state’s coal mining industry has struggled, the pepperoni roll has, in turn, continued on, and in my opinion, the best pepperoni rolls in West Virginia come from the original source, Country Club Bakery.
Country Club Bakery, now owned by Fairmont native Chris Pallotta, still makes their pepperoni rolls according to the original recipe. The rolls, which are roughly five to six inches in length are soft, but also dense, making them perfect for stuffing with all kinds of goodies like hot dog chili or peppers in tomato sauce. There’s a hint of sweetness to the dough, but it’s not in any way pronounced as the spiciness of the pepperoni sticks offset it beautifully. Most important to note, is that this dough is not like pizza dough or any other airy, light crispy dough, but rather it’s dense, yeast-risen bread dough. Pepperoni rolls made with pizza dough are stromboli, which we reserve for our fine neighbors up the road in Pennsylvania.
Also, for a proper pepperoni roll, you gotta use stick pepperoni versus sliced, and if you want to make them the Country Club way, you’ve got to roll up at least 4 good-sized spicy sticks of pepperoni before baking. Chintzing on pepperoni is a big no-no since biting into a pep roll only to get a mouthful of nothing but bread is a pepperoni roll travesty.
Country Club Bakery is no frills joint set off the road in downtown Fairmont. Here you can buy single rolls, rolls by the dozen or by the half dozen. There are other breads and baked goods for sale as well, but it’s the pepperoni rolls that everyone lines up for, and if you’re in the know, you’ll be outside waiting just before 7 a.m. in order to nab the freshest ones straight from the oven.
Country Club churns out hundreds of dozens of rolls daily and if you can’t make the trip to the bakery, you’re still in luck because they now ship anywhere in the country. However, I highly encourage you to drive to Fairmont and visit Country Club in person if you can. Not only because Fairmont is a wonderfully charming town, but because everyone knows Country Club’s pepperoni rolls taste best when you’re biting into one while walking from the bakery to your car.
Country Club Bakery, 1211 Country Club Rd., Fairmont, WV 304-363-5690Kendra Bailey Morris is a cookbook author, culinary instructor, recipe developer, speaker and food writer.