Everything You Wanted to Know about Pepperoni


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

The New York Times published a fascinating story about pepperoni yesterday that's a must-read. Starting with the premise that pepperoni is rare in fancy-pants pizzerias (it is, trust me), Julia Moskin then goes on to explain what it is, how it's made, and what its origins are (it's not Italian).

She goes on to quote people as they denounce this most popular of American toppings:

Michael Ruhlman, an expert in meat curing who is writing a book on Italian salumi, doesn't flinch from calling pepperoni pizza a "bastard" dish, a distorted reflection of wholesome tradition. "Bread, cheese and salami is a good idea," he said. "But America has a way of taking a good idea, mass-producing it to the point of profound mediocrity, then losing our sense of where the idea comes from." He prefers lardo or a fine-grained salami, very thinly sliced, then laid over pizza as it comes out of the oven rather than cooked in the oven.

But then she flips the script and notes that ... OMG ... pepperoni is actually becoming hip among a small group of big-name pizzamakers, among them Craig Stoll of Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco and Chris Bianco of Phoenix's Pizzeria Bianco.

[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

It's funny because we first noticed the pepperoni backlash in 2008, when this rant on So Good ("No I Do Not Want to Order Pepperoni Pizza — Do I Look Like I'm 12 Years Old?") and then this reblog of it on Slice ("Why Pepperoni Pizza Sucks") generated much debate.

Then we started noticing that many top wood-fired-oven pizzamakers were bowing to popular taste, but with a twist — topping their pies with hot soppressata. We called that trend last year around this time ("Hot Soppressata Is the New Pepperoni").

Soppressata, end chunk

A chunk of hot soppressata from Salumeria Biellese in New York City. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

As Paul Giannone of Paulie Gee's said when I talked to him about the Times story last night, "Yeah, you can get pepperoni on my pizza. It's called soppressata."

And, yeah, if you haven't tried hot soppressata on a pie yet, do it. It's great.

But it's fascinating to see the pendulum start to swing back to pepperoni love. In a recent wood-oven cooking class I took Anthony "TonyCalzone" Falco and Angelo Womack (of Roberta's) had picked up some pepperoni produced by Salumeria Biellese ("They make it reluctantly there," Falco noted.) And Moskin's Times story notes that Paul Bertolli of Fra'Mani is the one supplying Stoll and Bianco with theirs.

All that is to say that love it or hate it, you've got plenty of options these days when it comes to topping your pizza with discs of thin, greasy, crisped pork.