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Pepperoni: As American as Pizza Pie
Peruse our guide to pepperoni for a satisfying slice of insight on an edible icon.
If you ask for pepperoni in Naples, you might be handed a bushel of bell peppers. Though the name may sound Italian, America’s second-most-popular pizza topping (after cheese) caught on closer to home. “Peperoni” simply refers to the vegetable, the second p having snuck into the blend of pork, beef, and spices sometime in the early 20th century when Italian-American butchers began adapting cured salamis such as soppressata and salsiccia into a softer, smokier sausage. The process for making pepperoni is similar to that of any dry salami. First, a chef grinds the meat with spices that often include fennel, pepper, and paprika. He or she then adds enough salt and lactic acid to preserve it at room temperature. After a brief period of fermentation, the sausage spends the next 12–20 days hanging up to dry—pepperoni isn’t actually cooked until it’s popped into the oven atop a blanket of mozzarella.
Although pepperoni is largely confined to the pizza parlor and the sub shop in most of the United States, West Virginia’s state cuisine celebrates the pepperoni roll: an unassuming hunk of bread with a simple pepperoni filling baked inside. Italians who immigrated to work in the coal mines in the early 1900s found the rolls a quick, easy lunch that didn’t need refrigeration or reheating. Miners—and tailgaters—still enjoy them today, and they’re the spicy, slightly greasy lifeblood of several bakeries.