Pepperoni Rolls: A West Virginia Delicacy
Posted on 10.15.09 by Danny Glover @ 9:48 pm

We Native West Virginians miss many things about the Mountain State when circumstances force us to leave home, and two of the things we miss most are food items. Our mouths water just from thinking about them, and we can’t wait to visit for a taste of home.

First, we crave Mister Bee potato chips. The good news is that we West Virginians in exile can haul stashes of chips with us after visiting home or grab a few bags if we are fortunate enough to drive through the state in our travels.

But the best Mountain State delicacy of all time is the pepperoni roll. I can’t wait to visit my parents — or for them to visit us — because Mom almost always makes a batch when we’re together. They taste best fresh out of the oven, with a sheen of melted butter on top. They’re great for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack — or all of the above. Just pop ‘em in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.

Many pizza places in the state sell homemade pepperoni rolls and distribute them through grocery stores and convenience marts. My wife is hooked on the meaty, cheesy and saucy mix I introduced her to at Pasco’s in New Martinsville, W.Va. She has to make a trip there at least once every time we visit my family.

I love taking pepperoni rolls to work in the Washington, D.C., area. We’re not far from West Virginia, yet most people here have never heard of pepperoni rolls. They love ‘em once they get a taste. A colleague once told me he’d pay $1.50 per roll to buy them from street vendors in the city. That was in the early ’90s!

So how did the pepperoni roll come to be such a food staple in West Virginia? Not even this enlightened redneck knew the answer to that until my Mom told me last night she had read a story about that recently. That newsflash sent me scrambling to Google, and I found this nugget in, of all places, a New York Times story published Sept. 30:

In 1900, West Virginia was home to more native-born citizens than any other state. But, as the coal industry boomed and labor needs surged, that changed. Coal companies sought, as one historian put it, “a more docile, controllable work force than their American-born counterparts.”

They did not get what they bargained for. Italian immigrants were just as inclined, if not more so, toward union affiliation and action. By 1915, there were more Italian laborers than any of the other 20-plus nationalities working the coal fields.

Out of that cauldron of labor strife and self-definition came a hybridized food that owed as much to West Virginia as it did to Calabria, the region from which so many of the Italian immigrants came. …

Most informed eaters here know the early script: In advance of clambering into a dank and dark coal seam, Italian miners loaded tin pails with hunks of hearth-baked bread as well as various American takes on Italian salumi, from bologna to pepperoni.

From there, it was a short evolutionary step to selling commercially baked pepperoni rolls in taverns and country stores to shift workers in need of cheap and portable food.

I guess that means I’ve been an uninformed fan of pepperoni rolls for about four decades now. I feel so much more enlightened now.

I want to enlighten the rest of America, too. Stay tuned for a future video report about pepperoni rolls. I’ve been wanting to produce one for months. Now I’m even more inspired.

P.S. Did you know there is a Wikipedia entry on pepperoni rolls? I didn’t. I wasn’t surprised, however, to learn that the story in the Times triggered a debate about who makes the best pepperoni rolls.

And the answer is … Danny Glover’s mother, with Pasco’s running a close second.

Filed under: Family and Food and West Virginia


  1. [...] @ 1:28 pm I’ve never eaten a Krystal hamburger, but I certainly the kind of appreciate food nostalgia that would drive a person to drive 30 miles round trip for a taste [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » Bonkers For Krystal Burgers — December 24, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  2. I am a native West Virginian and graduate of WVU and now live in the Baltimore area. I never realized that pepperoni rolls were a native WV “staple” until moving away from my WV hills. Fortunately we always made pepperoni rolls ourselves in college and now I’m passing down the recipe to my unenlightened Maryland friends and extended family. These rolls are so delicious it amazes me that they aren’t known nationally. Thanks for the history lesson! There’s a lot more that comes from the WV coal mines than coal … Let’s hope that Obama doesn’t follow through on his threat to bankrupt the whole industry.

    Comment by Judy Hamilton — December 27, 2009 @ 6:13 am

  3. We’ve started making “Peproni Rolls” in College Station, Texas in 1985, and now have stores all across the state. They are certainly our customers’ favorite. And we think we can hang with the Old-Schoolers in WV. Check us out…
    -DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks, Austin, TX.

    Comment by Christie Lewis — January 21, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  4. I am a native West Virginian that has now lived in Texas for 17 years. Double Dave’s has it all wrong. Pepperoni rolls are to be made with yeast bread dough, not the pizza dough bread that you use. Otherwise you are just making a mini Stromboli. Get it right and don’t be a poser.

    Comment by Barry Morris — August 29, 2010 @ 8:20 pm

  5. This article was interesting, still confuesd however as to why West Virginian’s say they live in the “Mountain State” and there isn’t one single, geologiocally defined mountain in all of the state. Other than that, yeah, pepperoni rolls are good.

    Comment by S, Hughes — November 29, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

  6. [...] to “Bizarre Foods,” you now have video proof. Host Andrew Zimmern told the story of pepperoni rolls, [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » West Virginia’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ — February 27, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

  7. [...] LiberTea,” a nod to the tea partiers in town. The menu also included West Virginia’s unofficial state snack with a partisan spin — “GOPepperoni Rolls.” And for the journalists [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » Take A Stand For Lemonade Liberty — August 17, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  8. I have had Pasco’ s pepperoni rolls too. It has been over 30 years but I will never forget them! Go Magnolia Eagles!

    Comment by Christy — February 2, 2014 @ 2:18 am

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