Demystifying the Old World Pepperoni

Demystifying the Old World Pepperoni

Ever had a meal so delicious it took you back in time, grabbing your taste buds by their taste buds and transporting you to a fantasy land up in your gustatory cortex?  I’ve got a dollar that says you’re most likely salivating at mere attempt to recollect, but don’t worry. I’ll do my best to save you the mental torture. The truth is, everyone does, and if you’ve been eating as a part of your life — which frankly is an odd thing ng say —you’ve most definitely had an experience like this.

At a glance, Old World Pepperoni may most likely sound— far away from delicious food (to a history aficionado)— like some long lost mystery item or artifact in the class of Montezuma or Blackbeard, buried deep in the Aegean sea with tales only surviving through repeated regurgitation at taverns— except honestly, it’s not. 

Old world pepperoni is simply a spicy sausage, and sausage is basically spiced ground meat. Now, that’s the simpleton version! Old-world pepperoni is actually a popular Italian-American sausage made from cured meat (preferably pork and beef) carefully shredded into bits and seasoned with spices such as paprika, salt, and sometimes nitrites.  

Okay! Why ‘Old World’ then?

It turns out, as the name suggests, ever before people started making Pepperonis and Pizzas, that the vast regions of the Earth were broadly classified into two: The ‘New World’ and the ‘Old World.’ A certain English Geographer known as Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) from approximately two centuries ago thought it easier to classify all the Earth —Europe, Asia, Africa— already in existence outside America as the ‘Old World’ and it stuck. America happens to be the ‘New World, ’ according to Halford. 

Whatever influenced Halford’s decision is of no interest to our taste buds. Still, evidence suggests that there already was a significant level of civilization existing in the Old World and that many of the food, fruits, herbs, and spices consumed in America today were originally brought in from these regions, mostly during the transatlantic trade. One such fruit is the bell pepper, and chilly pepper (Capsicum annum) used to make a spice called Paprika. Paprika is one of the major ingredients used in the preparation of Pepperoni. Apparently, the name ‘Old World’ must have accompanied the pepperoni as the origin of its key spice.

Or maybe, another angle which many feels may most likely be the reason for the term ‘Old World’ is based on the old technique of meat production adopted by the people of Southern Italy known as ‘Meat curing.’

Tales have it that the Italians in the early twentieth century practiced the ancient art of preserving meat for longer periods of time as a necessity due to perennial shortages. This method is still known as ‘meat curing.’ The process involves chopping meat such as beef, pork, ham, mutton, etc., into comminuted pieces, mixing with salt and spices, and then stuffing into an elongated thin casing (usually cleaned animal intestine) to be hung in an open space and left to undergo natural fermentation and drying. Sometimes nitrite is added to the mixture. This process can take days, months, or even years, depending on the result to be achieved.

Meat curing is the traditional method of producing Salami — a Southern Italian dish still enjoyed worldwide today, which is believed to be the origin of Pepperoni in America.

Whether as a result of some imported ingredients or an ancient process still in use, one thing certain is the fact that the Old world pepperoni as we know it today is undeniable, a product of the fine blend of rich Italian and American cultural heritage.

Nice! But I still don’t get what a Pepperoni is?

Well, I figured you would, and for the sake of being precise, A Pepperoni is simply the American variety of the popular Italian Salami. It is traditionally made from a combination of cured pork and beef (hope you remember what was said about meat curing?) and seasoned with paprika and chilly pepper and salt. 

Salami originally is a term used to describe all types of meat in Italy salted and cured. In modern times, they now describe a particular variety that is salted, spiced, comminuted, and extruded through a natural casing. Salami and all forms of sausages and meat that undergo heating, drying, or fermenting before use are known as processed meat. Nowadays, companies no longer strictly adhere to using natural casings — which is used to pack the meat for curing, making artificial ones such as nylon and plastic, become preferable.

Etymologically, Pepperoni is credited as an Italian word derived from Peperone, meaning bell pepper. Another etymological variant is the word Pepperoncino which means ‘hot and spicy,’ however, Americans believe Pepperoni as a sausage is an American-Italian invention as it has no trace to Italy as a sausage.

The old world pepperoni is not the only type of Salami sausage out there. There are other variants such as the Genoa Soppresata, Nduja, Cotto Salami and Herbed or Peppered Salami all sharing major similarities and minor differences in aspects of processing and ingredients.

Got it! Thanks. So how do I consume it?

Seeing that it is a sausage made with a natural casing —which, when cooked, causes the edges to become crisp— Old world pepperoni can be eaten after cooking. It also can be eaten raw when and only when it is still fresh (only carefully because old or overstayed pepperoni can lead to food poisoning and is one of the leading cause of Listeria in America)

Old World Pepperoni can also be added to a list of other meals and snacks such as salads, pasta, cheese and cheesecakes, hamburgers, and sandwiches to enhance the taste and introduce an exciting extra flavor. 

It would interest you to know that the Old World Pepperoni gained popularity in America today and is preferably consumed more as a pizza topping than in any other form. More than half of America’s pizza lovers’ population prefers an old-world Pepperoni pizza to other types of pizza, ditching their healthy diet concerns for an occasionally rewarding indulgence in the crispy pizza flavored with an irresistibly piquant taste. Some experts have described it as mildly addictive behavior.

Well, I promised not to whet your appetite so I’ll stop here.

Hmmm….So, can I prepare the Old World Pepperoni myself?

Definitely yes! If you love Pepperonis so much and fancy giving it a try at home, then be sure to know that the steps are pretty easy, but they require a lot of time as pepperoni is in no way like your instant noodles. That being said, all you’ll need are your choice of meat variants and some key ingredients such as salt, sugar, cayenne, pepper, paprika, anise seed, garlic, red wine, and saltpeter, which acts as potassium nitrate to reduce humidity and render the environment inhabitable for bacteria.

You’d also need to add ascorbic acid which helps begin the process of curing.

Your pork and beef (plus any other meat) are ground separately into a bowl. They are then mixed with all the ingredients mentioned above and spread into a large pan. The mixture is refrigerated for a minimum of 24hrs at negative degrees, after which it is pressed together and stuffed into casings tied tightly at ends. The stuffed meat mixtures are then hung traditionally and left to cure for days or even weeks. 

If going through the procedures sounds like too much stress for you, then you can opt for a ready-made old world pepperoni from culinary master companies such as Bridgford, Vermont, and Italian owned Margherita. They make a wide variety of old-world Pepperoni, from whole beef to whole pork and even nitrate-free variants. It can be gotten from local delis and major food stores around you such as Wholefoods, Livoti’s®, Rubino’s®, all Eataly® outlets, and Walmart Supercentres.

So here you go, all about the mysteriously irresistible Old World Pepperoni demystified. I prefer to call it an Elite sausage for its elongated procedures and palatably rewarding taste. Do tell me what name you’d likely prefer to call it, and if you haven’t tried one yet, now is a good time to take your taste buds on a pleasantly rewarding adventure trip. But don’t take my word for it— See for yourself! Happy Adventure!

Demystifying the Old World Pepperoni

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