There are few foods as perfect as a classic pepperoni pizza. It’s one of those dishes that needs almost no improvement, spicy and meaty perfection that adds a twist of heat to tangy tomato and salty cheese.
So when you see “Old World Pepperoni” on a menu, you might wonder what has happened to your beloved favorite.
Don’t worry, old world pepperoni is basically just pepperoni made better. Spicier with a natural casing, it curls up during cooking to make little cups of flavor. This dark red meat has a lot in common with its new world sibling, but with a few changes that really ramp up the deliciousness.
If you can’t understand how pepperoni gets any better, then this is the guide for you. We can tell you everything that sets old-world pepperoni apart, as well as the similarities that guarantee almost any pepperoni fan will fall in love.
The History Of Pepperoni
If you want to understand old-world pepperoni, then you have to understand exactly what pepperoni is — beyond just “spicy sausage that goes on pizza”.
Pepperoni, both new world and old world, is a spicy sausage made from cured pork or beef. This meat is typically flavored with paprika and chilies, sliced thin, and baked on top of pizza.
So, that’s the “pepperoni” part covered. But what’s the “old world”? And how does it relate to pizza toppings?
The term “old world” might conjure up images of prehistoric cavemen and dinosaur sausages, but it’s actually a fairly simple term. “The old world” basically refers to Europe, Asia, and Africa. “The new world” is considered to be the Americas, Australia, and anywhere else.
When it comes to pepperoni, you might have guessed that “old world” pepperoni is considered Italian, and “new world” pepperoni is American.
What might surprise you is that pepperoni is actually an American food, not an Italian transplant. When the Italians came to America, they bought a lot of flavors and food with them.
Inspired by the spicy sausages of home, Italian-Americans created the uniquely delicious pepperoni, and a modern pizza classic was born.
In fact, if you try and order old-world pepperoni when you’re in Italy, you might not get what you expect. Pepperoni is more often used to describe a large bell pepper in Italy. And as much as we love bell peppers on pizza, they’re no substitute for pepperoni.
Nowadays, pepperoni is so popular that Americans eat 251.7 million pounds of the stuff on pizza every year!
American Pepperoni vs Old World Pepperoni
American pepperoni and old world pepperoni are sort of like twins. There are a lot of similarities there, and in some cases, you might have to look hard to find the differences, but they still aren’t exactly the same.
The most immediate difference between a pizza topped with old-world pepperoni and pizza topped with American pepperoni is the look. Old world pepperoni is a darker red, almost mahogany when cooked. American pepperoni is much brighter, with a slight orange hue.
American pepperoni is likely to be cut into even slices and lies flat on the pizza. Old world pepperoni is thicker, curling up at the edges and creating a cup. Depending on the cutting skills of the chef, you might notice that old-world pepperoni is sliced unevenly.
But it isn’t all in the appearance. When you bite into the pepperoni, you’ll notice a flavor difference as well.
Old world pepperoni is made using more traditionally Italian techniques. These old-school methods lend the pepperoni a robust flavoring, with more depth and variety than American pepperoni.
But what exactly are these flavoring methods?
First, we have to consider what goes into the sausage. To create pepperoni, typically paprika, chili, and garlic are needed. Old-world pepperoni might introduce a more diverse flavor range. Fennel seeds and black pepper are common, as is mustard seed.
While this does make a difference to the flavor, it isn’t what makes old world pepperoni stand out. The second thing we need to consider is the bacterial culture.
Although bacterial culture might sound off-putting at first, it’s an important part of the sausage. Bacterial culture cures the meat by dehydrating it and consuming the sugars. American pepperoni uses a simple bacterial culture, for a shorter cure.
The complex bacterial culture used in old-world pepperoni aids a slow curing process, which helps to develop flavors and color.
The final thing that sets apart old-world pepperoni is the casing.
The Casing Makes Old World Pepperoni Different
Unless you’re preparing the sausage yourself, the casing often doesn’t come into consideration. However, when it comes to the different types of pepperoni, the casing makes a world of difference.
What you’ll typically find wrapped around your pepperoni sausage meat is an artificial casing. Easy to manufacture artificial casing is then filled with the sausage meat and left to cure.
One major advantage of the artificial casing is that it’s quite weak. Slicing artificial casing is easy, allowing the chef to get thin and even slices of pepperoni, every time.
Under the high heat of the oven, the artificial casing often disintegrates. So when it’s time to eat your pizza, you’d never even know it was there.
Old world pepperoni, on the other hand, uses natural casing. The natural casing is made from the intestines of animals, and they’re stretched and filled with the sausage meat.
Natural casings bring food-safe bacteria and enzymes with them, which contribute to the rich flavoring of an old-world pepperoni.
This natural casing may contribute to one of old-world pepperoni’s most defining features — the curl. The natural casing starts to shrink under heat, which causes the edges of the pepperoni to rise. Curled edges cook quicker, giving them a crunchy texture and a deeper flavor.
Curled pepperoni has gained the nickname ‘Roni cups in New York City. If you find yourself in NYC, asking for a slice with ‘Roni cups should ensure you get the best old-world pepperoni.
The natural casing is also firmer, and harder to cut than the artificial casing. This results in those thick slices of pepperoni you find on good pizza.
The casing is the most important difference, even more so than the seasoning. Seasoning tends to change from producer to producer, with some American pepperoni containing all kinds of spices. However, the natural casing marks the sausage apart.
So, old world pepperoni may not be from Italy, but it does use traditional Italian techniques in the processing.
How Old World Pepperoni Is made
The actual process for making old world pepperoni is similar to that of American pepperoni. However, old-world pepperoni tends to be a bit more “hands-on”. This is part of the reason why old world pepperoni is considered the artisanal, quality option.
Old world pepperoni uses either pork, beef, or a mixture of the two. A heavy handful of seasoning is then added, along with salt, curing salt, and bacterial culture. This is given some time to ferment.
The next step is adding the sausage mixture to the casing. Made from sheep, pig, or cow intestines, these casings are naturally very stretchy and tend to “twirl” as they’re stuffed. When the casing is full, the end is tied, and the pepperoni is left to cure.
As the pepperoni dries, the flavors become more powerful. At the end of the curing process, the sausage is ready to be sliced, sold, and eaten.
Tips On Buying Old World Pepperoni
Hopefully, by now you’re desperate to try some old-world pepperoni yourself. There’s a depth of flavor to it that’s incredible, and once you’ve tried those curling cups, flat pepperoni is never quite the same again.
Unfortunately, buying old world pepperoni isn’t quite as easy as you might hope. “Old world pepperoni” isn’t a regulated term, so some manufacturers use it to describe even the blandest sausage around.
That said, there are a few ways to get your hands on it! You just have to pay attention when purchasing and make sure to read the labels. Don’t just read “old world” pepperoni, and assume you’re getting the best available.
First, look closely at the color. Old world pepperoni is a much deeper, richer red. American pepperoni, with a shorter curing process, hasn’t had time to develop that color.
Second, take a look at the flavorings and ingredients list. If you can see a mention of fennel, pepper, or mustard seed, then you’re likely looking at an old-world pepperoni. But there’s one last important detail.
A well-labeled pepperoni will tell you what kind of casing is being used. Read the description of the product, and look to see if they describe a “natural” casing. There may also be a reference to a long curing process.
Once you’ve got the sausage home, more of its secrets should be revealed.
Pepperoni that requires some effort to slice is probably old-world. If you find making thin slices simple, then it’s likely American.
Finally, the oven can reveal more of the pepperoni’s secrets. If it curls, then it’s old world. If it stays flat, then it’s American.
What Brands Make Old World Pepperoni?
There are some brands that can be trusted to deliver high-quality old world pepperoni. If you want to try some for yourself, look for these at your local supermarket/deli:
- Bridgford. Known for making a variety of delicious deli meats, the Bridgford pepperoni stick uses a long fermentation process to improve the flavor.
- Olli Salumi. Stocked in many chains and supermarkets, the affordable Olli pepperoni is slow cured and tangy.
- Salt and Time. An Austin-based deli, Salt and Time is all about using traditional techniques to produce the most flavor.
- Boar’s Head. Established in New York City in 1905, the focus of Boar’s Head has always been meats of the finest quality.
- Underground Meats. By adding anise and fennel to their old world pepperoni, Underground Meats have created a sausage with a real depth of flavor.
These are just a few of the brands to keep an eye out for. One of the main differences between old world and new world pepperoni is the quality of the making process. When you’re buying real old-world pepperoni, expect to pay a little more. The taste is worth every cent.
Buying Old World Pepperoni
Although pepperoni is found in almost every grocery store in every town, locating old-world pepperoni can be tricky.
Things are, however, looking up. As more and more fall in love with the curling cup of old-world pepperoni, the more it’s stocked in even small chains.
If you’re desperate to get your hands on some old world pepperoni (and who isn’t?) then these are the places to try:
- In grocery stores. The shelves of your favorite local grocery store may not be guaranteed to feature old world pepperoni, but it’s still the place to start looking. Keep an eye out for the brands we mentioned above.
Don’t forget to check both the chiller and the shelves! Sliced pepperoni is typically kept in the refrigerator, but unopened pepperoni can be shelf-stable.
Some stores to try are Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Kroger. In fact, Kroger does a pretty fantastic own brand old world salami. Your local Walmart may also stock good-quality pepperoni.
- At the deli. If your local chain store is lacking old world pepperoni, then try the nearest deli instead. At the deli, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a wider range of cured meats, including that elusive old world pepperoni. Deli workers typically know a lot about the products they sell, so they can guide you through exactly what makes that pepperoni special.
The only real downside to this option is that not everyone has a deli nearby.
- At the butchers. Back in the day, every town had a butcher’s shop. Nowadays, they’re harder to come across. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, then drop in and see if they have any pepperoni to hand. Even if they don’t have any in stock, a good butcher will be able to order old world pepperoni for you.
- At the pizzeria. If you want to try some old world pepperoni, but cooking is not for you, then take a trip to the local pizzeria. Although you can’t guarantee the kind of pepperoni they stock, an authentic restaurant should top their pizzas with the best quality sausage. Ask before ordering about the kind of pepperoni they use. (And if it turns out not to be old world, there’s probably still plenty of delicious toppings to try).
- Online. Old world pepperoni is a surprisingly easy item to order online, because the long curing process means it doesn’t go bad quickly. A major advantage to ordering online is that you can research the company before making a purchase. Good brands are eager to guide you through the process, and explain exactly what makes their meat special.
The only real disadvantage of ordering online is that prices can really increase once you add minimum spends and shipping costs. Navigate this by ordering one of these fantastic brands from Amazon:
How To Use Old World Pepperoni
When someone asks “what to do with pepperoni?” the first and best answer is always: use it as a pizza topping. Pizza and pepperoni are a match made in heaven, and that goes for both old and new world flavorings.
But if you’re only using your pepperoni for pizza, then you might be missing out. Trust us, if you’ve bought a whole stick of old-world pepperoni, you’ll be wanting to put it on everything. So after you’ve eaten enough pizza to burst, what foods can you try pepperoni on next?
Old world pepperoni is the perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie board. Serve it alongside a selection of cheeses and meats, add in some freshly baked baguette, flaky crackers, and sweet fruits.
Or, keep things simple and slip some old-world pepperoni onto your sandwich. Enjoy with some mild cheese, so the flavors of the pepperoni can really sing.
Another option is to cut it up and mix it in with your mac and cheese. Make sure some pepperoni pokes out the top as it bakes, so you can get the classic cup shape.
Pepperoni goes great with nachos, in quesadillas, and topping bagels. There’s a lot you can do with old-world pepperoni. With a little experimentation, you can discover new and delicious flavor combinations.
There might be a whole range of ways to use old-world pepperoni, but pizza remains the best choice. To find out how to do it, follow our recipe below.
Old World Pepperoni Pizza Recipe
Making your own pizza is deceptively simple, and a great way to personalize for your specific tastes. Simplify this recipe by using pre-made pizza dough.
For the dough:
- 2 – 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp olive oil
For the sauce:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed.
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 6oz can tomato paste
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- Salt (to taste)
- Freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
- Red pepper flakes (to taste)
For the toppings:
- 125g mozzarella
- Thickly sliced old world pepperoni, as much as you like
- Fresh basil (to serve)
- Parmesan shavings (to serve)
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pour warm water into a bowl, and add the sugar and yeast. Mix, and leave for 5 minutes until bubbles start to form.
- Add olive oil, and gently stir.
- In a larger bowl, combine the salt and flour. Make a well in the middle of the flour, and gently pour in the water and yeast mixture. Use a spatula to bring it all together, until a sticky dough has formed. If necessary, add more flour.
- Tip the dough onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth. It should take roughly 5 to 10 minutes. Add up to ½ cup of extra flour if necessary.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
- As the dough rests, make your sauce. Cook the garlic in the oil for 60 seconds, then add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt, ground black pepper, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Stir, cover the pot, and bring it to a simmer. Simmer between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Briefly knead the dough on a floured surface, and then roll into your base shape. Prick the dough gently with a fork, avoiding marking all the way through.
- Pre-bake your base on a high shelf for 5 minutes.
- Remove the base from the oven. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sauce to lightly cover the base. Dot with mozzarella and pepperoni. Return to a lower shelf in the oven, and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until the base is crisp and golden.
- Scatter with basil and Parmesan, and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s The Difference Between Old World And New World Pepperoni?
Old world pepperoni and new world pepperoni are similar in many ways. They’re both made using ground meat, which is then spiced, left to ferment, squeezed into a casing, and cured.
Old world pepperoni tends to use more spices, a more complex bacterial culture, a natural casing, and a longer curing process.
Why Does Old World Pepperoni Curl?
Old world pepperoni curls because the natural casing shrinks as it heats, causing the sliced edges of the sausage to pull up. The thicker cut of meat also contributes to this curling effect.
When the meat curls, the outer edge cooks faster. This gives old-world pepperoni a mixture of textures and a bacon-like taste in places.
What Meat Is Used To Make Old World Pepperoni?
Old world pepperoni is made from either pork, or a mixture of beef and pork.
Some pepperoni is made from either all beef, turkey, or chicken. However, these pepperonis have to be clearly labeled with the meats used. Real, old-world pepperoni will always be either pork or a pork and beef mixture.
Where Is Pepperoni From?
Despite being heavily associated with Italy, pepperoni is an American invention. The first mention of it is in the early 20th Century, and it was created by Italian Americans in the style of old-world sausages.