By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

West Virginia has long been credited with originating the pepperoni roll.  In fact, Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro at the Country Club Bakery in neighboring Fairmont, WV is supposedly acknowledged for selling the first ones back in 1927.

Italian foods became popular in north central West Virginia in the early 20th century thanks to the many Italian immigrants who settled in this area, making a living working in the coal mines.   Its popularity was prevalent not just because it was such a tasty treat that could be held in the hand and eaten, but also the classic pepperoni roll did not need to be refrigerated to preserve it.  Therefore, it became a practical lunch/snack option for coal miners.

It quickly became a cherished tradition in West Virginia … so much so that many area bakeries picked up on this item.  Ninety years have passed and its appeal has not waned.  Even folks who move away from the area inquire about having them mailed to them in other states!

Sticks of pepperoni nestled inside freshly baked bread … yum!!!  Over the years, many variations of that original pepperoni roll have developed.  While initially made with fresh baked bread, some folks today use frozen dough or even crescent rolls to fashion them.  Stick pepperoni, sliced pepperoni or even ground pepperoni are often used to modify the recipe somewhat.  And some consumers will cut them open and stuff them with peppers and sauce and/or top them with cheese!  But even “unadorned” with extras, the pepperoni roll is still a favorite.

Today, however, with so much concern over eating healthier diets, the pepperoni roll’s ingredients are meeting with some controversy.  In Marion County, for example, where the pepperoni roll originated, they are looking into considering still other versions of making the ‘treat’ that will not compromise healthier nutrition.

“It is a nutritionist’s nightmare,” said one Marion County Health Department board member, who cited all the saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium in a pepperoni roll.

Another health official stated, “Grandma wasn’t always right.  In fact, while she was feeding you those warm pepperoni rolls, she was also feeding you heart disease and nitrates.”

In an attempt to correct this, Marion County tourism and health officials have partnered with Marion County bakeries to find a better, less harmful alternative recipe.  Here are a few of the solutions:

– Use healthier dough.  New pepperoni rolls will be made with quinoa flour, arrowroot, and other natural starches.

– Use healthier ‘meat’.  Try perhaps vegan pepperoni – made with soy protein isolate, which would replace the nitrate-rich original.

– Use healthier mozzarella.  Plant-based cheese is significantly lower in calories.

Bakeries in Marion County are willing to try this and have pledged their support.  By May of next year, traditional pepperoni rolls will be phased out of Marion County!

Staff and volunteers at the Marion County Convention and Visitors Bureau actually handed out samples to tourists last weekend of the new, healthier recipe versions, and here are the responses from samplers:

– 10% still thought they tasted like Grandma’s

– 37% approved of the healthier ingredients

– 12% did not recognize it as a pepperoni roll

That reports on the opinions of 59% of those who tasted the healthier version.  What did the remaining 41% think?  While some liked the idea of eating healthier, many were still loyal to the original and complained about a noticeable difference in the texture.

Apparently you have a year to enjoy the original before it will be replaced – at least in Marion County!  OR, you’ll have to travel elsewhere to purchase them OR learn how to make your own.