August 12

Old World Pepperoni – Why it’s Better

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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Like many people, you might think pepperoni is Italian, but this ubiquitous pizza topping is as American as it gets!

Pepperoni is just one of the many types of salami.  

Salumi, the plural of salami, has different names depending on the ingredients used. For example, “saucisson sec” is a French salami spiced with garlic and white wine. “Pepperoni” is a European-style salami developed by Italian immigrants in the U.S., usually made from pork and flavored principally with paprika and chilis.  

According to the New York Times, the first use of the word “pepperoni” traces back to early 20th century in Manhattan. Like many American foods, it made use of old European traditions upgraded by immigrants with fresh ideas.

To help you expand your knowledge of delectable pizza toppings, we've put together a comprehensive guide to Old World Pepperoni. Comment at the bottom if you have any questions or comments, and as always... 

 Enjoy!

What is “Old-World” Pepperoni?


Some restaurants or delis advertise “old-world pepperoni,” which is distinct from what you might have seen topping your chain-restaurant pizza

You’ll recognize old-world pepperoni because of its deep red color. When cut, it may appear thick or unevenly sliced. You may find it covered in a thin, papery coating; this is the casing.

A protective species of mold grows to cover the outside, giving the sausage a white color and downy texture. The casing is edible, but some people prefer to peel it off with a sharp knife.  

Finally, old-world pepperoni may contain traditional spices. All pepperoni is prepared with the classic combination of paprika, chili powder, and garlic, but the old-world style may also contain mustard seed, fennel, or cracked black pepper.

“Old-World” vs. “American-Style” Pepperoni


While all pepperoni stems from New York City, two different styles have evolved, known as “old-world” and “American-style.” Though its flavor profile originated in the United States, old-world pepperoni is prepared according to European fermentation and flavor traditions.

In contrast, American-style pepperoni has evolved along with the industrial era of food production. It is softer, often sold pre-sliced in very thin, even slices, and is lighter in color with an orange tone. Its flavor is much less bold, and it is often wider in diameter.  

It is worth examining more closely why these differences exist. To make a salami of any kind, a sausage-maker mixes meat with spices, salt, liquid, sugar, curing salt (usually in the form of nitrates or nitrites), and a bacterial culture.

The culture consists of microorganisms that will consume the sugar to produce acid and drop the pH, preserving the meat in conjunction with dehydration. All these ingredients are then stuffed into the casing and hung to dry for weeks or months.

One crucial feature distinguishing old-world pepperoni is the traditional mixed bacterial culture. While American-style pepperoni uses a simple lactic-acid producing fermentative culture, old-world pepperoni also includes a second type of bacteria known as CNC (coagulase-negative cocci).

These CNC reduce nitrates (NO3-) to nitrites (NO2-) for the purpose of curing. Because this process happens gradually, the slow-curing creates excellent color development and deep, complex flavor that is missing in American-style pepperoni.   

Another attribute of old-world sausage is the natural casing. Natural casings stretch well, spiral during filling, and develop a layer of flavorful mold, whose enzymes act on the meat within to improve flavor and texture. On the other hand, American-style pepperoni uses an artificial casing. These are cheaper, and they do not spiral, making for a more consistent product that is easier to slice. However, they grow no mold coating, making American-style pepperoni unable to develop the flavor and texture characteristics of old-world pepperoni.

Despite these differences, it is essential to remember that all pepperoni --both old-world and American-styles-- made in the United States must comply with safety regulations, meaning that the production process follows a HACCP plan and takes precautions to avoid botulism and trichinosis.

Why Does Old World Pepperoni Curl?


The “cupping and charring” action beloved by artisanal pizza chefs occurs first when the natural casings shrink upon exposure to the high heat of a pizza oven.

Shrinkage causes the casing to tug inwards on the edges of the round slice, encouraging the formation of a cup shape.  

Also, because old-world pepperoni is sliced thicker, the top edge of the slices cook faster than the bottom edge. The result is that fat melts from the top, charring the top faster than the bottom edge, also contributing to the upwards curl.

But Why Should I Care About Old-World Pepperoni?


You have genuinely not tasted pepperoni until you have tried old-world pepperoni! The highly complex flavor created by the mix of bacterial cultures and long fermentation of an old-world salami is not to be missed. 

Where to Eat True Old-World Pepperoni


  1. 1
    Marco’s Pizza: A well-known pizza franchise, Marco’s pizza is beloved for their old-world pepperoni “Pizza Magnifico.”
  2. 2
    Plus One Pizza: An award-winning, family-operated pizza chain with several locations across Ohio. They offer both American-style and old-world pepperoni!
  3. 3
    Noble Roman’s: This craft pizza and brewpub with numerous locations across Indiana offers over 40 topping options.
  4. 4
    Guido’s: Scattered all across Michigan, this Detroit-style pizza chain takes pizza seriously; they even grate their own cheese!
  5. 5
    Ask for “Roni Cup” pizza anywhere in New York City, and you’ll get a slice topped in the old-world style.

Best Old World Pepperoni Brands 


  1. Olli Salumi: Found in some supermarkets, this recognizable company is reasonably priced and has a transparent process and chain of custody.
  2. Salt and Time:  This Austin-based salumeria carries out their whole process in-house, start-to-finish.
  3. Underground Meats: This Wisconsin salumeria has several different types of old-world pepperoni available!

Where to Buy Old-World Pepperoni


1) Artisinal Pizzeria 

Pros: This is an easy way to try it for the first time, and you can see the famous “cupping and charring” that old-world pepperoni is renowned for!

Cons: Outside of New York, there is no guarantee that even the nicest pizzeria in your town will serve old-world pepperoni.  It is best to call and ask before you make a trip.

2) Online 

Pros: Buying online is a great way to check out a company before you purchase. If your curiosity extends beyond pepperoni, salumerias selling online offer a variety of other old-world sausages, plus some creative twists on old traditions.

Cons: Shipping charges may apply, and there may be a minimum order policy. 

3) Local Upscale Supermarkets or Delis 

Pros: Supermarkets usually offer a curated selection of the best and most popular salami styles. You can buy a single sausage if that’s what your budget allows.

Cons: Old-world sausages may not have a place in your average supermarket. Let a manager know that you’d like them on the shelf.

4) Local Butcher or Salumeria

Pros: Buying from one of these is a great way to support a local business if your town is lucky enough to have one.

Cons: Health and safety regulations make this kind of business very difficult to establish, so they are still quite rare, especially in certain states.

5) Cured Meat Vending Machine (Rare But Available)

Pros: Delicious salumi on the fly!

Cons: There are zero downsides to this situation.

How to Make "Old World" Pizza


These videos can teach any novice how to make pepperoni from scratch.  If you are trying it for the first time, remember these pro tips:

  • Keep your hands, tools, and equipment clean! Sanitize, then sanitize again.
  • Do NOT over-mix your meat batter. If you aren’t sure, stop mixing. It’s better to under-mix than over-mix.
  • Keep everything as cold as you can. Setting your bowl of meat on top of a larger bowl of ice whenever you aren’t working with it (even for a few seconds) will be surprisingly helpful.

1) Simple, Homemade Pepperoni Pizza

(Just substitute in your old world pepperoni)

2) Simple, Meat Lover's Pizza
(Just substitute in your old world pepperoni)

Concluding


Consumers’ appetite for bolder flavors and daring styles increases year by year. It is now easier than ever to find an old-world style salumeria or an affordable European-style pepperoni in your local grocery store. If you have grown bored with the bland, predictable offerings at your local pizza chain, pick up some old-world pepperoni and try it yourself.

We hope our guide was helpful. Comment below if you have any questions.

Cheers,

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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