The Location: Fairmont, West Virginia
According to the 2010 census, there are 18,704 people living in this city. The 2012 per capita income was $21,093. 88.6% of the population is white, and 8.7% is black.
Interesting Factoid: Mary Lou Retton is from this city! How cool is that?!
The city was established in 1820 as Middletown, but the name was changed to Fairmont in 1843 when it was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly.
Like many towns in West Virginia, Fairmont is a coal mining town. In December of 1907, there was an explosion in two mines that triggered an earthquake large enough to be felt up to eight miles away. It destroyed buildings in the area, and knocked railcars off their rails. The explosions killed 362 people and remains, to this day, the largest mining disaster in the history of the nation.
Coal mining also leads into the food I chose. It is so synonymous with the state of West Virginia that it also informs the culinary dishes of the area too.
The Food: Pepperoni Rolls
Fairmont is the home of "The Original Pepperoni Roll". They were invented in 1927, by Guiseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant who had come to America several years earlier to make a living. He had worked as a coal miner, and saw that one of the most popular meals the men ate during their lunches was bread and pepperoni sticks. He had an idea to combine them into one dish that could be eaten with one hand. By 1927, he worked in a bakery where he was able to develop this recipe. It ended up being a huge hit with coal miners. The pepperoni roll was easy to transport and easy to eat in one hand. Like a calzone, pierogi, or a pasty, it is a bread item encasing a filling, which is a classic food preparation that nearly every culture uses in their own way. The bread acts as a transportation device for the filling, yet also provides nourishment.
When I was researching this state, this dish came up over and over again so I knew I had to try it. The dish was popular when it was first introduced and remains so popular even today, that it was named as the state dish. That is quite an honor!
The recipe is ridiculously simple, and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, which is really nice! You may not realize this, but this blog project is rather expensive, so having all the ingredients already, is quite appealing! I found a recipe online that called for frozen bread dough, which I had leftover from when I made runzas for the state of Nebraska earlier this year. You may recall that as another bread and meat-filling dish, akin to the pepperoni roll. The flavors, however, are nothing alike.
While runzas were made as individual items, the pepperoni roll was made as one large roll and cut into slices. Recipes vary, some of them are individual rolls, and some of them are slices, almost like a bread and meat strudel. Some recipes are very simple, just bread and pepperoni sticks, while some are more complex, by adding cheese or using a different form of pepperoni. The recipe I used called for pepperoni slices, and that's why I opted for it. There is one brand of pepperoni, Applegate, that has an all-pork recipe, so I can eat it since I don't eat beef and most pepperoni is a blend of pork and beef. I highly recommend this brand because it's super delicious!
The first step is to thaw the bread dough. If you follow the package directions, you take one of the dough pieces out of the package and put it in a greased loaf pan and leave it in the fridge all day to thaw out. I did this and it worked perfectly. However, I should have let it come to room temperature before I started kneading it. I didn't and I think that made it rather difficult to stretch out properly. It kept going back to its original shape and I had to work it for quite a while before it would stay in that slightly rectangular shape. The original recipe says to cut the dough into two and basically make two smaller rolls. Since some of the dough was too tough to use(freezer burn is no fun!), I had picked off the tough parts, but the rest was just fine. I thought since it was less than originally called for, I didn't need to cut it in half. I don't think it suffered at all, really. One large or two smaller, it still ends up the same when it's baked!
The next step, once the bread is in the right shape, is to lay out mozzarella cheese slices on top of the dough, slightly overlapping and leaving a bit of a gap around all the edges, like you would a pizza. On top of that, lay out the pepperoni slices. That's it for the ingredients. Seriously, it's three ingredients!
The next step is to then roll it up like a cinnamon roll or a strudel. Start at the far long end and begin rolling it towards you. It holds up better than you would imagine. Seal all the edges when you're done and move it onto a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake it at 350 degrees for about a half hour. It should be golden brown when it's done. Some of the cheese and grease from the pepperoni might spill out of the bread when it's baking, but it's ok. This is perfectly normal. Let it sit for a few minutes before cutting it into slices.
I served this with a little bit of spaghetti sauce for dipping. These were ridiculously good. So simple with the ingredients used, but the flavors are so bold. They all shine-the bread is distinct from the cheese, which isn't drowned out by the pepperoni. It's really rich because there isn't the tomato sauce in it to interact with the flavors like a traditional pizza. I also ate a slice this morning for breakfast after it had chilled overnight and it was almost better cold. I can see why this would be an ideal meal for somebody taking food in a lunch pail for later in the day in a coal mine. It really is a one-hand dish, no utensils required. When it's chilled, nothing spills, it holds together entirely. It sounds so simple, but this was really a revelation to me in how amazing something can taste when there's nothing fancy involved. I can totally see why this is the state dish.
I did not make a side dish with this. I was unable to come up with any definitive sides from West Virginia that weren't generically "Southern", and I wasn't terribly hungry, so I just had some Pirate Booty to round out the meal.
This would be something that somebody without a lot of experience cooking or baking could easily make. It's hard to mess up. It would also be something fun to cook with children. They could help roll out the dough and lay down the cheese and pepperoni. Older kids would be able to help roll it up. I highly recommend this one!
Pepperoni Roll Recipe
Pepperoni Roll History
State Dish Info