Here at Dogtown Pizza, we love learning about pizza almost as much as we love eating pizza, and we’re pleased to continue our series covering the history of pizza with a look at America’s favorite pizza topping: pepperoni! (If you missed our earlier Pizza History posts, click the links to get caught up on the history of St. Louis Style Pizza and a fun explainer on Salsicca Sausage.)
Pepperoni: Where Did This Favorite Pizza Topping Come From?
The origin of pepperoni starts with the practice of curing meats as a way to preserve them without refrigeration, and this practice dates all the way back to the Roman Empire! Drying and smoking meats for preservation goes back further, but the Romans pioneered the process of curing meats with salt and other spices, which allowed them to keep a stock of meats instead of having to rely on what they could catch every single day, and curing was more reliable that other preservation methods of the time. Later, various types of sausage were made all across Europe, including some spicy red sausages in regions of Italy—but pepperoni isn’t Italian.
Despite being thought of as an Italian meat, pepperoni is actually as Italian-American as chicken parm! The origin of pepperoni is as an adaptation of other spicy sausage recipes, made with the ingredients that were available at the time in America. Early Italian-American immigrants combined local meats, seasoned them with peppers, then cured the meats in casings for preservation. Fun fact: The Italian word “pepperoni” has nothing to do with meat! It means “large peppers,” which is probably a reference to the peppers used to season the early versions of this delicious sausages.
In modern Italy, this word is often used when talking about bell peppers—so if you order “pepperoni pizza” in a part of Italy that doesn’t get a lot of tourists, you may be in for a surprise!
How It’s Made
A lot of people say it’s a bad idea to see sausage being made, and we’re not quite sure why: the process of making pepperoni is fascinating! Pepperoni starts with fine or medium minced pork and beef, which is combined with peppers, garlic, fennel, mustard seed and other seasonings.
Salt and/or nitrites are also added to cure the meat. The mixture is then sealed and refrigerated for a few days. After that, the mixture is stuffed into casings (hog casings are traditionally used). Once the cured meat is in the casings, the casings are tied off to form a rope of links. The links are then refrigerated for 12 hours to solidify into shape, and then the links are hung to dry, usually in a smoke chamber to add extra preservation and smoky goodness, for a few weeks.
After the meat has dried, the links are packaged individually or sliced, and shipped to your nearest grocery store—or to Dogtown Pizza, where they are the star of the show on our Dogtown Pepperoni Pizza. You can also find our round red friends on the Dogtown Deluxe Pizza, Dogtown Sausage & Pepperoni Pizza, and Dogtown 4 Meat Pizza!
What are your favorite pizza toppings to combine with pepperoni? What should we cover next in our Dogtown Pizza’s History of Pizza series? Let us know in the comments!