By PAM KASEY ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRMONT — If West Virginia had an official state food, surely it would be the pepperoni roll.
Invented here, connected with the state's coal mining heritage and more popular than ever today, the pepperoni roll is a sandwich-sized roll with pepperoni baked inside. The roll can veer toward sweet or savory, with a fluffy or firm mouthfeel; mozzarella may or may not be baked in and it can be eaten out-of-hand or with a knife and fork, slathered with sauce — but favorites inspire great loyalty.
The geographic center of the pepperoni roll is Fairmont, according to many and affirmed by the results of a Facebook poll The State Journal conducted in April.
Country Club Bakery and Colasessano's Pizza and Pepperoni Rolls, both in Fairmont, tied with the most votes for popularity.
"Hot out of the oven, Country Club is great and the original," said Facebook respondent Jeremy Ryan Smallwood, a vote with which many agreed.
"Colesessano's in Fairmont has no rival!!!" said Randall McQuaid, echoing the thoughts of just as many voters.
The outcome will be no surprise to aficionados. Country Club claims that its recipe is that of Frank Argiro, a coal miner whom they say invented the pepperoni roll in the early 1920s as a variation on the bread-and-pepperoni lunch his co-workers often ate.
It has to be acknowledged that others claim primacy as well, but Country Club's claim has become legend in the area and even appears on Wikipedia.
"Our dough is basically an Italian bread, and we use the same for the pepperoni rolls. It's not sweet," said Country Club owner and manager Chris Pallotta. "The pepperoni, we like to use it with a little bit of a bite to it, a little bit of spice."
The Country Club roll is on the small side — about 6 inches — with three strips of pepperoni so that a hungry person could eat several.
And don't ask for cheese or sauce: "We just make them with bread and pepperoni, plain," Pallotta said.
"You never get anything that's a day old," he said. "We make our product every single day."
Compared with Country Club, Colasessano's restaurants serve the bells-and-whistles version.
"With sauce and cheese is the most popular," said Ernest Yeager, a manager at Colasessano's. "Our roll is not sweet. And a lot of rolls don't use stick pepperoni — we slice the pepperoni ourselves."
The restaurants serve the rolls split open and broiled until they're warm and toasty.
A close runner-up in The State Journal's informal Facebook poll, it should be mentioned, was Rogers & Mazza's of Clarksburg.
The R & M roll comes in four varieties, according to owner Steve Rogers: plain, or with mozzarella, hot pepper cheese or American cheese. Mozzarella is the most popular.
"It's got plenty of pepperoni and plenty of cheese, and the dough is a little bit sweeter than anybody else's," Rogers said. "People like a sweet roll."