Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (2024)

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (1)
Pepperoni rolls must have a generous grease stain.

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.

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (2)

From a culinary standpoint, many West Virginians were, in turn, introduced to traditional Italian cooking for the first time in their lives, including my family, who hail from Bluefield, Princeton and Fairmont. Homemade meatballs, peppers slow cooked in tomato sauce, cream cakes, and slow-cooked tomato “gravies” laden with beef, sausages and pork served atop steamy spaghetti were commonplace at our dinner table and still are today. Yet, there’s one particular delicacy that defines the Italian melting pot that is West Virginia—the pepperoni roll.

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (3)

The story goes like this. Italian miners, like all miners back then, needed something non-perishable and easily portable to pack into their lunch pails (or pants pockets) as they often worked very long hours deep inside the mines. For many Italians, lunch frequently consisted of a piece of bread stuffed with couple of pieces of cured meat. It wasn’t long before an entrepreneurial miner in Fairmont, W.V., Frank Agiro, decided to experiment with baking a couple of bits of salumi inside of a yeast roll and thus, the pepperoni roll was born. Not soon after, Agiro put down his pickax and opened the now famous Country Club Bakery, which is still in operation today.

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (4)
Pepperoni rolls stuffed with Oliverio Peppers are indeed "almost heaven".

Consisting of a couple of strips of spicy pepperoni enrobed in a slightly sweet dough, this convenient treat has a dizzying array of variations. My grandmother in Fairmont insists on chopping her pepperoni into small pieces before mixing the bits into her dough while my mother is a proponent of hand-slicing thick chunks of pepperoni and then wrapping the sticks of meat with a dense potato yeast roll dough. Other variations include stuffing the rolls with mozzarella cheese, onions, marinara and/or sweet peppers cooked in tomato sauce.

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (5)

However you choose to slice or dice your pepperoni roll, a few fundamentals remain. One, a yeast-risen bread dough is essential to doing it the West Virginia way (not pizza dough since that's a stromboli). Two, you must be generous with the pepperoni. No chintzing. Finally, and most importantly, somewhere in each of your rolls there must be a decent ‘roni grease stain, although often this takes care of itself (see number two and note the photo at the top of this page).

Here is the recipe for pepperoni rolls that we've been making in our family for years. The dough is a little bit of work but well worth the effort.

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe
Makes about 20 rolls


1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
½ cup of warm water
½ cup plus ½ teaspoon sugar
1-2 white potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
½ cup of shortening
1 teaspoon of salt
1 egg
7 to 8 cups of A.P. flour
1 ½ sticks of pepperoni, cut into matchsticks (about 1 pound total)

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1 egg


Mix yeast, warm water and the ½ teaspoon sugar in a bowl and let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes. It will get foamy. Cook potatoes until tender in about three cups of water (enough to make approximately 2 ½ cups leftover potato water). Mix your cooked potatoes and 2 ½ cups potato water in a blender. Add the ½ cup sugar, shortening and salt, and blend well. Add your egg and blend 5 seconds more.

Cool mixture to lukewarm. Then pour the mixture into a big bowl and add the yeast mixture. Slowly add 4 cups of flour and beat until smooth. Add 3 to 4 more cups of flour and knead until the dough is fairly stiff but still a little sticky. Place dough in a large greased bowl and cover it with plastic. Then cover your bowl with a wet kitchen towel and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. (Note: the dough will keep in the fridge for 5 to 6 days. Be sure to push down the dough at least once per day.) You can also rise you dough for 2-3 hours in a very warm room or an oven proofer.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Turn dough onto a floured board and cut into quarters. Continue to cut into roughly 20 pieces (you can make 40 smaller rolls for appetizers if you like). Take a piece of the dough and push it flat. Then place a couple of pieces of pepperoni in the middle (overlapping and not stacking) and roll it up. Pinch the ends of the dough to hold the pepperoni inside. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all of your dough and pepperoni.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add your egg and mix well. Brush rolls with this mixture and then bake them until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.

For a much quicker version of this recipe, use hot dog buns or hoagie rolls (or use frozen dough to make the pepperoni rolls). With purchased buns, simply fill them with strips of sliced pepperoni, sliced peppers in tomato sauce and mozzarella, and bake as above.

All photos and text ©2014 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permissionPin It Now!

Authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe (2024)
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