West Virginians recognize pepperoni rolls as a vestige of the state's bituminous coal mining industry, which, in the early years of the 20th century, before mechanization reduced the need for labor, recruited Italian immigrants to carry out extraction work with dynamite and pickaxe. The pepperoni roll is considered a cornerstone of culture in north-central West Virginia, an area with a large Italian population. Giuseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant and coal miner, created this popular dish in 1927 by taking an already popular snack of pepperoni sticks and bread bars one step further. Argiro baked the pepperoni inside the bread, which caused the fats in the pepperoni to melt and infuse the soft bread with its spicy oil.
Needless to say, the pepperoni roll was an instant hit. Not only was it tasty, but coal miners appreciated its portability and lack of need for cooling. It could be eaten by hand and it was often okay to eat it as leftovers a day later. A unique food that tells a lot about a person's family history is pepperoni rolls.
What makes this food so informative for genealogists is its regional nature. The pepperoni roll is found primarily in West Virginia and some of the nearby surrounding areas, such as western Pennsylvania, the Ohio Appalachians, and western Maryland. It originated there and can still be found there today. While other areas of the country are populated by people who have never heard of the pepperoni roll, those in and around West Virginia can find it in grocery stores and convenience stores to this day.
In fact, it's arguably the most popular snack in West Virginia and certainly the food most closely associated with that state. The origin of pepperoni rolls dates back to 1927, when Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro made and sold them at the Country Club bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia. Knowing that they ate pepperoni rolls gives you an insight into their daily lives that is invaluable to genealogists. A handful of people followed the line, helping to cement the pepperoni roll in West Virginia's food culture.
While the roll is baking, the pepperoni fat melts into the bread, giving it an infusion of spicy oil. Almost 100 years after Giuseppe Argiro's famous invention, the pepperoni roll is still alive in the hearts and mouths of his fans. If you're lucky enough to stumble across a pepperoni roll and you've never eaten it before, do yourself a favor and try it. If you're not from the area, haven't been there, or don't know anyone from there, you may never have heard of the pepperoni roll.
The first pepperoni rolls were probably created by the wives of miners, but they were first commercially produced around 1927. Tomaro's Bakery, the oldest Italian bakery in the state and just a few miles away in Clarksburg, developed its version of the pepperoni roll around the same time. You'll also know that there are several generations of West Virginia families that have enjoyed the pepperoni roll before you. Giuseppe's original bakery, Country Club Bakery, is still in operation today and continues to bake his basic recipe for fresh pepperoni rolls every day.
Pepperoni roll prevalence: school lunches, fundraisers, gas stations, stadiums and military stadiums. Argiro originated the pepperoni roll at a time when Italian foods were gaining popularity in West Virginia and surrounding Appalachian areas. While generally eaten as a snack, pepperoni rolls can also be eaten as lunch and served at room temperature or slightly warm. Argiro sold the pepperoni roll to his hungry mining customers from the moment he invented them, until around 1950, when they began to gain more widespread popularity.