Pepperoni. We cannot speak of the rich, flavorful and thoroughly satisfying pepperoni without using the word “delicacy.” Like other similar meats, pepperoni made its appearance on the American marketplace with the arrival of European immigrants.
It all started in New York. As new immigrants established communities, they sought to maintain a sense of home and tradition. The delicatessen was born. Simply put, what we now call the “deli” owes its name to the first establishments that offered the delicacies of their European origins to the new Americans.
American Indians already had a “pepperoni” of their own in the form of “pemmican,” a mixture of venison, buffalo, berries and fat stuffed in animal casing. In truth, cured meats compacted in natural casing date back to before the Romans.
While pepperoni is a delicacy today, for centuries this type of cured meat was commonly used by travelers, shepherds and even cowboys due to its key property: real, properly cured salami keeps without refrigeration. Journeys were long in olden times. Pepperoni and other similar salted and cured meats were a perfect way to ensure sustenance along the way in times when refrigeration did not exist.
The curing process that is responsible for this type of meats’ longevity actually activates good bacteria that turn the meat into an inhospitable environment for the undesirable bacteria that would normally cause spoilage. Clever.
Pepperoni is like many other foods that were developed in direct response to environmental and practical conditions and need and became a source of simple pleasure over time. It used to be stashed in the satchel of long-distance travelers and merchants and served with nothing more than a knife and a hearty bread at inns along the way. Today, it adorns the top of pizzas and we merely carry it a few miles home, in a box. But its taste satisfies as if we ourselves had been on a long journey. Just seeing it dot the top of the Italian pie is satisfying. And have you noticed that it sometimes curls? Do you know why?
Pepperoni is generally one of the last ingredients to be layered on the pizza. The top of the pizza is exposed to air in the oven. The body of the pizza (the dough) and the cheese actually provide insulation for the rest of the ingredients. Thus, the pepperoni cooks first and faster. As it cooks and releases some of its moisture and fat into the pizza (yum!), it begins to shrink, pulling the edges in and forming a small, bowl-like disk. It buckles up, also, because the casing itself reacts to heat by shrinking, which constricts the slice of pepperoni, making it bend inward.
You can use this phenomenon to your advantage to make a tasty appetizer with pepperoni. Simply heat thin slices until they cup. Remove from oven. Allow to cool and fill with Blue cheese mixed with finely chopped Granny Smith apple. Yum again!
Enjoy pepperoni at Jeffersonville Pizza Department.