MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Candace Nelson is hoping her new book will become the definitive guide to one of West Virginia’s most unique pieces of culinary and cultural history: the pepperoni roll.
“I really try to pack as much information as I can about our state food into this one book so that folks have it all in one place,” Nelson, author of The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll, said in an interview with MetroNews.
Nelson, a former reporter for The Daily Mail and current Social Media Editor for WVU, first began writing about West Virginia’s pepperoni rolls when she was assigned to cover the debate in the Legislature over whether it should be declared West Virginia’s official state food.
Those experiences turned into a road trip acrpss West Virginia for the Wellsburg native–and a book released by WVU Press earlier this month.
“As much as the pepperoni roll is a big part of our culinary culture, it’s also just a big part of people’s nostalgia,” Nelson said. “There’s memories [in the book] from notable citizens and other West Virginians who have enjoyed the pepperoni roll for their whole life.”
Nelson said that nostalgia isn’t exclusive to any singular West Virginian, which is perhaps what makes the tale of the pepperoni roll so unique.
“Pepperoni rolls were such a big part of my childhood,” she said. “When I was in high school and middle school, they were sold as fundraisers. And I remember our teachers letting us out of our class a little bit early to get in line to go get the pepperoni rolls.”
So unique, in fact, that the WVU graduate said it never really occurred to her that other states might not have a comparable food.
“When I came to college, when I came to Morgantown, and I met folks from out of the state who hadn’t heard of a pepperoni roll, my first question was what did you sell as fundraisers in high school?”
Nelson said she realizes now that such a question may have been a little “ridiculous.” As she continues to learn more about the pepperoni roll and it’s little, regional intricacies (detailed in the book) in West Virginia, Nelson began to take some pride in her own aforementioned ignorance. She realized that the pepperoni roll was a distinctly West Virginian wonder.
“I’m not sure that it’s really a pepperoni roll if it’s not made in West Virginia,” Nelson said. “I don’t even know if you can call it that if it’s not made in this state.”
The book has some details on that aspect of the pepperoni roll’s history. When Sheetz decided in 2015 they were no longer going to supply their stores with pepperoni rolls made in West Virginia, public backlash eventually led to a concession. The company agreed to continue to stock it’s 49 West Virginia stores with Clarksburg-based Home Industry Bakery pepperoni rolls.
While, in some ways, that was still a defeat, Nelson said it should surprise no one that a bakery in North Central West Virginia earned that distinction as the sole-supplier of pepperoni rolls at West Virginia Sheetz locations. North Central West Virginia–particularly Marion and Harrison counties–offer some of the oldest and most popular pepperoni roll recipes.
“If you’re in North Central West Virginia, there’s a good chance that you probably prefer the stick pepperoni because it’s traditional,” Nelson said. “But as you get kind of on the further outskirts of town, folks tend to like the more sliced pepperoni. Particularly, sliced with cheese does very well.”
While the book enjoys being a one-stop shop for anyone curious about the Mountain State’s culinary creation, Nelson said the book is as simple as the food it’s lionizing.
“The pepperoni roll just kind of differs a little bit because it’s so simple because it was created to be shelf-stable and be more utilitarian and fill the tummy as opposed to just something that’s just over the top and filled with all these different things,” she said.
The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll is available now at Amazon.com, wvupressonline.com, and Barnes & Noble.
Nelson will be at a book signing Saturday, June 17 at the Morgantown Barnes & Noble.