Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Rolling Pepperoni's Doughy, Delicious Dialogue

Katt Schuler serves West Virginia’s iconic pepperoni roll with a side of storytelling.




photos by laura petrilla

 

For Katt Schuler, baking pepperoni rolls carries more weight than simply the professional pride in making a tasty snack for pick-up at her Lawrenceville storefront (as well as distrubuting to more than a dozen locations around town). Sharing the quintessential prepared food item, which originated in West Virginia, through her business, Rolling Pepperoni, is an opportunity to bridge the gap between rural and urban divides.

“Where am I from? Who do I represent? I just kept circling back to the Appalachian culture,” says Schuler, who lives in Pittsburgh but grew up in Elkins, W.Va.

As far as iconic regional foods go, the pepperoni roll sits squarely on the simple end of the spectrum. It consists of a handful of thin slices — or a small stick — of pepperoni encased in a white-bread roll. Yet this straightforward snack, which is found all over West Virginia at gas stations, bakeries, church bake sales … and just about everywhere else food can be sold, represents how immigrants contribute to American food culture and, over time, can become an edible source of regional identity.
 




 

The pepperoni roll traces its roots to the foodways of Calabrese immigrants who moved to northern West Virginia in the early 1900s to find work in the region’s coal mines. The miners needed high-calorie, easily digestible food to keep them energized through long, brutal hours of labor. What they had on hand — loaves of bread, cured meats and pickled vegetables — fit the bill. Schuler believes that West Virginians didn’t create a hand-held stuffed roll closer in likeness to another historic miner’s food, the Cornish pasty, because, she says, “There wasn’t much fresh food once the mines were established in West Virginia. People abandoned their farms and ranches to go work in the mines with the promise of earning more money.”

A contemporary pepperoni roll is more or less the same as when Giuseppe Argiro first sold them commercially sometime around 1927 (the exact date is unknown) at his People’s Bakery in Fairmont, and, prior to that, the home kitchens of the miners’ wives. Unlike its near-cousins, calzones and stromboli, the pepperoni roll is free of other accoutrements. Its elementary makeup makes it shelf-stable and is part of its culinary appeal — as the pepperoni bakes, the fat and spices melt into and season the slightly sweet bread. It is, according to Schuler, “the cleanest, most honest and delicious piece of snacking that you can get.”
 




 

Schuler launched Rolling Pepperoni in 2016 with the intention of introducing a tasty and wholesome version of the iconic roll to Pittsburghers who might never have heard of it or, if they did, hadn’t eaten a good one. Despite our proximity to West Virginia, the pepperoni roll never caught on widely as a Pittsburgh dish. Sure, it’s sold at some local Italian bakeries and pizza shops, and sometimes makes its way onto the school lunch line, but its history, identity and culinary appreciation lie squarely with our southern neighbor.

Schuler wasn’t an experienced professional baker, so she experimented with friends — and, more importantly, their grandmothers — until she developed a bread she was happy with. Now, Schuler uses a poolish as a starter, and honey and olive oil to enrich the dough. She collaborated with Parma Sausage, the fourth generation Strip District charcuterie makers, on a custom pepperoni recipe. The roll has a slightly malty crispness, which gives way to a sturdy-yet-light, slightly sweet dough that is balanced by the rich pepperoni, which is flavored with paprika, garlic, fennel and black pepper.
 



 

In addition to crafting pepperoni rolls that any descendant of Calabrian immigrants would be proud to call their own, Schuler’s sociological mission is what makes these rolls even more interesting. Although Appalachia loosely is defined by its geography — the mountainous landscape that weaves as far south as Alabama and as far north at New York — its identity largely is self-defined by the people who claim it. To illustrate the point, Schuler is sharing stories and reflections about Appalachia on Rolling Pepperoni packaging and on its website. She says she is changing the packaging every two weeks, with the eventual aim to add a new story weekly. “We’re trying to give people the opportunity to talk about what Appalachian culture means to them,” she says.

The reflections begin with a prompt: “What is Appalachia to you?” There isn’t a single straightforward answer, but Schuler says she’s starting to notice variations on a theme.
 



 

“In general, people talk first about the region geographically. Then they talk about how pissed off they are that the resources and people have been exploited. And then they come back to how much they love the region, they love their home, all the beauty in it,” Schuler says.

Schuler hopes that having people share their reflections will foster a dialogue that could lead to a better understanding between people from rural, red state West Virginia and the more progressive city of Pittsburgh. “The benefits of the exploitation of Appalachian resources live on in the cities through foundations, public works, libraries. But it didn’t extend to rural communities,” she says.

If that conversation begins by breaking bread with one of the tasty versions of West Virginia’s iconic food to be found between Pittsburgh and Elkins, all the better. “We are Appalachian here [in Pittsburgh], too. We’re in it. So let’s bridge the divide. It makes perfect sense to use the pepperoni roll as a point of connection. It’s delicious,” Schuler says.
 



 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

For Three Days, Sesame Street Will be in Pittsburgh

Kids can join Big Bird, Elmo and more Muppets as Sesame Workshop plans three days of events during a stop in Pittsburgh in June.

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Picklesburgh to Double in Size for Its Fifth Year

Nation’s top speciality food festival to spill out onto Ft. Duquesne Boulevard.

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Is Your Pittsburgh Street on This Year's Road Repaving List?

The City of Pittsburgh has announced its street paving plan for 2019. You’re one click away from finding out if your street or route to work is on the list.

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

A graffiti-decorated cake, a sequined jacket for the groom and a violinist playing hip-hop covers wowed guests at this Strip District wedding.

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

Look for New Mexican cuisine, customizable chicken and more as half of the Pittsburgh Galley Group concepts change in the next few months.

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Featuring innovative indoor animal shelters designed by local architects and artists going up for auction, the event at PerLora raises money for Animal Friends.

The 400-Word Review: Hellboy

The cult comic character gets a reboot in this R-rated action flick.

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

The 400-Word Review: The Silence

Netflix's new horror film has a plot unfortunately similar to a giant hit. Can it succeed in spite of that bit of bad luck?

Popular Fried Chicken and Beer Hall Landing in Pittsburgh

The Cincinnati-based restaurant has signed a lease for a 6,000-square-foot space Downtown.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


For Three Days, Sesame Street Will be in Pittsburgh

For Three Days, Sesame Street Will be in Pittsburgh

Kids can join Big Bird, Elmo and more Muppets as Sesame Workshop plans three days of events during a stop in Pittsburgh in June.

Comments

Picklesburgh to Double in Size for Its Fifth Year

Picklesburgh to Double in Size for Its Fifth Year

Nation’s top speciality food festival to spill out onto Ft. Duquesne Boulevard.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

A Look at The Latest Restaurant Openings in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh says hello to Alta Via, Leo. A Public House, a new Milk Shake Factory location and more.

Comments

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

New Restaurants Coming to Smallman Galley and Federal Galley

Look for New Mexican cuisine, customizable chicken and more as half of the Pittsburgh Galley Group concepts change in the next few months.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

Downtown Pittsburgh Remains a Classic Rock Haven

PM intern Amanda Myers recounts the radio-rock adventures that life as a Downtown student has made possible.

Comments

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

Take Your Video-Game Habit Into the Real World at Rogue Laser Grounds

The pop-up laser tag arena takes the mechanics of online video games into a undeniably cool setting.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

Penguins’ Lament: ‘To an Extent We Beat Ourselves’

The answer to a self-inflicted postseason sweep must begin with getting the players and their coach back on the same page regarding what’s required for survival in the playoffs.

Comments

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Pens Don't Need to Overwhelm Islanders, Just Outlast Them

Patience, persistence and taking what the game gives is critical in Round One.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The 400-Word Review: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

The latest chapter in the Hong Kong martial-arts franchise gets a Pittsburgh release.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The 400-Word Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The latest chapter in the Conjuring franchise concerns a sinister spirit from folklore.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

Details Shine in Metallic Hip-Hop Wedding

A graffiti-decorated cake, a sequined jacket for the groom and a violinist playing hip-hop covers wowed guests at this Strip District wedding.

Comments

Matching Bridesmaids’ Dresses May Be a Thing of the Past

Matching Bridesmaids’ Dresses May Be a Thing of the Past

Brides choosing one (or several) different colors, but leaving the design up to the bridesmaids, help attendants feel comfortable within their own budget.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Design Goes to the Dogs with BARKitecture

Featuring innovative indoor animal shelters designed by local architects and artists going up for auction, the event at PerLora raises money for Animal Friends.

Comments

Room2Grow Reveals Your Baby's Gender — With a Nursery

Room2Grow Reveals Your Baby's Gender — With a Nursery

After designing a room around their child’s gender reveal, Chris and Stacy Galiyas are shopping around a reality show where they do the same for other expectant parents.

Comments