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. According to Country Club Bakery, the pepperoni roll was invented by its founder Giuseppe 'Joseph' Argiro.
In the early 1920s, the Calabrian immigrant worked in coal mines in the north of the state and realized that the lunches of other Italian miners usually consisted of a slice of bread, a piece of pepperoni and a bucket of water. Almost 100 years after Giuseppe Argiro's famous invention, the pepperoni roll is still alive in the hearts and mouths of his fans. The West Virginia Black Bears minor league baseball team has a trio of pepperoni rolls that run against each other across the field between innings. Argiro is often credited with marketing the pepperoni roll, although it is likely that it was the wives of coal miners in the kitchens of the houses who baked these rolls years before.
Pepperoni roll prevalence: school lunches, fundraisers, gas stations, stadiums and military stadiums. Pepperoni rolls can now be found in bakeries, restaurants and even gas stations; in fact, chef William Dissen, from Haymaker and the Market Place restaurants in North Carolina, is a native of West Virginia and confirms: “The best ones are usually found at a gas station somewhere nearby. Bakeries in north-central West Virginia, such as D'Annunzio's Italian Bread, Abruzzino's Italian Bakery, Chico Bakery (home of Julia's pepperoni rolls), the world-famous Colasessano pizza, Rogers and Mazza (Marty's) pepperoni rolls, and Home Industry Bakery have their own unique version of this treat. Last summer, a historic monument was placed outside the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, the 94-year-old still-functioning monument that claims to be the birthplace of the state's iconic pepperoni rolls.
The first pepperoni rolls were probably created by the wives of miners, but they were first commercially produced around 1927. This roll takes us to the coal mines of West Virginia, where pepperoni rolls represent the area's rich Italian heritage. When ramps are in season, the store includes them in its rolls to create ramparoni rolls with garlic and onion flavors. When you find that perfect pepperoni roll with pepperoni in every bite, without too much bread and perhaps with melted pepper jack cheese, you'll understand why they're found in every corner of West Virginia.
And there's a major league-approved pepperoni bagel eating contest that takes place during the annual Three Rivers Festival. 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. Many people will assess whether a pepperoni roll is worth buying by turning the package over and examining the bottom soaked in oil. 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.