One night this summer, I spied one of my coworkers carrying a Ziploc bag full of bready, doughy, buttery homemade goodness. It was on this day that I discovered the undeniably delicious West Virginian pepperoni roll. In a fortuitous string of events, a care package of pepperoni rolls baked by a West Virginian coworker's mom ended up as a part of this West Coaster's midnight snack. And it hit me, like a slap across the face: I had regional food envy (RFE).
Unbeknownst to me, I had been living a life void of one of the most simply satisfying marriages of bread and meat. Until this point, I was unaware that pepperoni rolls existed at all, and that they are as everyday to folks from West Virginia as avocado consumption is to Californians. Always intrigued by baking traditions, I started to investigate for The Great American Bakery Hunt, intending to write a tell-all history of the P-roll. RFE had me hooked. Then, a little paper you may have heard of called The New York Times, with all of the time and resources of full-time writing professionals, recently scooped me in their "United Tastes" series. But I'm happy to be echoing their pepperoni roll praises, so long as it means the P-roll gets to live on.
As the NY Times article "Fast Food Even Before Fast Food" describes, the meaty rolls have their roots in the hearty lunches miners packed to get through their long days at work for the coal companies. What the New York Times does not mention is the controversial legal past of the pepperoni roll. According to pepperoni roll lore, West Virginian Senator Jay Rockafeller "saved" the pepperoni roll from West Virginia extinction by lobbying against proposed health department restrictions that would have doomed many pepperoni roll bakeries to go out of business. It was a historic victory for the P-roll, its makers, and all of humanity. You can read Rockafeller's thoughts about his pepperoni heroism in this letter. Internet sources also suggest that such rolls, where meat is baked "hidden" inside of bread, may be forbidden in some US locations.
While I'm not sure what the regulations are in California, it's very possible that I was unlawfully consuming pepperoni roll contraband at some point this summer. I'm typically a law-abiding citizen, but some rules are clearly meant to be broken. In the case of pepperoni roll legislators Vs. The Great American Bakery Hunt, give me my pepperoni rolls, lock me up, and throw away the key.