What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why ‘Cup & Char’ Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer

Pepperoni is one of the most popular pizza topping in the US, for good reason, too. Those spicy, tangy little slices of beef and pork are hard to beat in terms of flavor and texture.

But what if I told you that pepperoni can be even better? Introducing “Old World” style pepperoni!

So, what is Old World Pepperoni anyways? Old World pepperoni is an artisanal type of pepperoni that curls into a cup shape and becomes crispy when cooked, along with extra spices and flavor. It’s distinguished from traditional pepperoni by its smaller diameter and slightly thicker cut, which contributes to its distinctive cupping and charring behavior.

Old World pepperoni cups and chars due to its natural casing made from animal intestines, and an uneven distribution of fat, which causes the edges to curl upwards and crisp under intense heat.

Unlike American-style pepperoni, with its finely ground meat and uniform shape, Old World pepperoni is often made from a coarsely ground mix of beef and pork with a high concentrations of paprika, chili flakes seasoning, and bacterial cultures, giving it a bold tangy flavor.

old world pepperoni what is it 1 What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer
Left: Regular flat pepperoni. | Right: Old world pepperoni – notice the cup shape and deep red color.

Old-World Pepperoni Cups and Curls Due To Its Natural Casing

One of the defining characteristics of Old World pepperoni is its ability to form small, crispy cups when cooked. This unique behavior is due to its natural casing (or “skin”), which is a traditional covering made from animal intestines (usually sheep).

As the pepperoni heats up in the oven, the natural casing reacts to the temperature differently than the meat inside. This difference in shrinkage between the casing and the meat causes the edges to curl upwards, forming these distinctive cups.

This cupping effect is not just visually appealing, it also enhances the eating experience. The curled edges become crispy and fill with flavored oils and spices.

By contrast, pepperoni with artificial or no casing tends to remain flat while cooking, lacking the dramatic texture and flavor concentration that the natural casing of Old World pepperoni offers.

What Is Regular Pepperoni? Italian Inspired, American Made

Part of the confusion surrounding old world pepperoni is a lack of understanding of what “regular” American style pepperoni is in the first place.

Regular pepperoni is a hugely popular American variety of salami (or sausage, depending on who you ask), known for its vibrant red color and soft, slightly smoky flavor. It’s made from a mix of cured pork and beef (or occasionally turkey or chicken), seasoned with spices like paprika, garlic, black pepper, and sometimes mustard seed.

Pepperoni typically is made from finely ground meat mixed with the spices and then stuffed into artificial casings. It’s then left to ferment while it air-dries. This curing process, which can last from a few weeks to several months, is crucial in developing pepperoni’s unique flavor and texture.

Pepperoni is American, not Italian

Despite its strong association with Italian cuisine, especially as a staple topping of American-style pizza, pepperoni is actually an American invention. It emerged in the early 20th century, influenced by Italian salami like soppressata and salami picante.

Italian immigrants in the United States adapted their traditional recipes to local tastes and available ingredients, giving birth to this unique and now globally recognized variety of salami sausage. Pepperoni quickly gained popularity for its bold, spicy flavor and its versatility, especially in American fast-food culture.

Interestingly, pepperoni is not even an Italian word, although it does have an Italian derivation. Peperone, in Italian, refers to a bell pepper while peperoncino (meaning “small pepper”) refers to a hot or spicy pepper.

It’s unclear exactly how or when, but somewhere along the line, Italian-Americans associated the word for bell and hot peppers with the sausage itself, and thus “pepperoni” sausage was born. The first recorded instance of pepperoni being used in America goes back to 1919, but in reality the term is likely much older.

new york style pizza What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer
Photo: Typical NYC style pepperoni.

What “Old-World” Pepperoni Actually Means

When we talk about “Old World” pepperoni, we’re generally referring to any kind of pepperoni made using traditional Italian style sausage making techniques. It doesn’t necessarily have to cup and curl, but it usually does.

This label evokes the “artisanal” methods and food making heritage of Europe, where meat curing has been a craft for centuries. However, it’s crucial to recognize that Old World pepperoni originates in the United States just like regular pepperoni.

This is why this style of cup and char pepperoni was originally popular in the Midwestern US, as well as cities like Buffalo, long before it was known as “Old World”. 

Both traditional and old world varieties were developed in the United States by Italian immigrants, who adapted their native salami recipes to align with American tastes and available ingredients. Both types are also are made from cured beef and pork.

So, the name ‘Old World’ in this context is a nod to the style and method of preparation, reminiscent of old European techniques, while the product itself is a unique creation of the American pizza making scene.

Differences Between Old World Pepperoni vs Regular Pepperoni?

When adding Old World pepperoni to homemade pizza, expect a spicier and more intense experience. 

These pepperoni cups become crispy around the edges, providing a unique texture contrast to the chewy pizza crust and soft cheese. The curled edges also capture the pepperoni’s oils, creating little pools of flavor and leading to a burst of spiciness and tanginess with each bite.

By comparison, regular pepperoni behaves quite differently when baked. It usually stays flat on the pizza, cooking more evenly with just a bit of rippling when cooked. Without the cupping effect, the oils from regular pepperoni spread more uniformly across the pizza, affecting the entire slice and not just the pepperoni itself.

Regular pepperoni offers a softer, more finely ground texture, and provides a milder, less spicy taste than its “Old World” counterpart.

Ultimately, there are pros and cons to each style pepperoni but neither is “better” than the other. It really just depends on what you’re looking for in a pepperoni pizza.

new york slice pizza What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer
Photo: A “New York slice” with standard flat American pepperoni.

How Is Old World Pepperoni Made?

Old world pepperoni is made much the same way as regular pepperoni, except instead of industrialized methods, old-world pepperoni is made using more traditional sausage making techniques.

Old World pepperoni is made through a meticulous sausage making process, creating its unique flavor and texture. It starts with a careful selection of meats, usually made from pork and beef mixed together, which are then coarsely ground and seasoned.

The mixture is further enhanced with curing salts for preservation. This seasoned meat is then stuffed into natural casings made from animal intestines, which helps give it an irregular shape. The sausages then undergoes fermentation with added bacterial cultures, which gives it its tangy flavor.

After fermentation, the pepperoni is air-dried over several weeks to months, allowing flavors to concentrate and the texture to firm up. This aging process is crucial, as it develops the pepperoni’s deep red color and intensifies its spicy, robust taste.

Common Ingredients of Old World Pepperoni

Old World pepperoni typically consists of a meat blend including ground pork, beef, and sometimes poultry.

The flavor profile is enriched with a variety of spices and flavorings like paprika for color and mild heat, crushed red pepper flakes for spiciness, and other seasonings such as garlic, onion, mustard seed, black pepper, and occasionally fennel or anise seeds. Rosemary may also be added for its aromatic touch.

The curing process involves both regular or sea salt and a specific curing salt like Prague Powder #1, which contains sodium nitrite, essential for preservation and color development of the pepperoni.

Of course, the specific ingredients will vary from one producer to the next, but in general you can expect to find a variety of high quality cured ground meats and seasonings packed into a natural animal casing. 

Best Old World Pepperoni Pizza Recipes

The best part about old world pepperoni is that you can add it to any style of pizza or recipe with great results.

Detroit style pizza is what immediately comes to mind when thinking of old world pepperoni. This style of pizza has always featured small slices of pepperoni on top that curl under high heat, even though it was never actually called “old world” until recently. 

New York style pizza typically features regular style pepperoni, but increasingly you can find it with old world pepperoni for an extra kick.

But don’t limit yourself to American pizza, either. I’ve made some incredible Neapolitan style pizza with old world pepperoni on top and it did not disappoint. It’s a little greasier than you’d typically expect, but it’s still delicious nonetheless.

Although old world pepperoni cups and curls best in a pizza oven, you don’t need one to enjoy its unique taste and texture. But if you are using a home oven, I recommend using a pizza stone or pizza steel for the best results. Either method will provide the high heat necessary to shrink the casing and cause the pepperoni to curl upwards and pool with oil.

Who Makes Old World Pepperoni

Old-world pepperoni is made by a number of manufactures, including some pizzerias that have their own in-house recipes. For most of us, however, we’re limited to what’s available online and at our local supermarkets.

As of 2023, you can now buy high-quality “cup and char” pepperoni slices directly from Ooni.com. These are great quality and highly recommended for any style of pizza.

Brands That Make Old World Pepperoni:

  • Bridgford: Makes various deli foods, jerkies and pepperoni
  • Kroger Private Selection: Kroger’s premium store brand food
  • Hormel: A family of brands that makes a number of different foods
  • Olli: Makers of artisanal slow-cured meat products
  • Battistoni: Makes a variety of different pepperoni types
  • Ezzo: Italians meats, sausage and pepperoni
  • Salt and Time: Austin based butcher and deli
  • Margherita: Popular packaged pepperoni maker
  • Boar’s Head: Maker of quality hams and other meat products

Keep in mind that there is no official “old world” standard or certification so the term is thrown around quite a bit and probably means different things to different people.

The list I’ve provided here are of brands that either make specific claims of making “old world” style pepperoni, or simply brands that are generally well regarded whose pepperoni curls up in the oven.

At the end of the day, your own taste for the flavor and texture of these pepperoni brands will tell you which one is best!

What Stores Carry Old World Pepperoni?

Old world style pepperoni can be found at markets all over the United States, and probably the world as well.

However, be advised that not all local markets carry it and it might be something you can only find at higher end grocers or delicatessens. Depending on where you live, in a big city or somewhere further away, it might be a good idea to call around first to see which stores carry it.

In any case, the following located all over the United States often carry old world style pepperoni:

  • Walmart
  • Kroger
  • Whole Foods
  • Safeway
  • Publix
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Aldi

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and your local organic or artisanal market might be a safer bet anyways. Call around or use Google first before making a trip to the grocery store. If they don’t know what “old world” pepperoni is, tell them you’re looking for a rustic style pepperoni in a natural casing that cups and curls in the oven.

In many cases, your local deli might be the best place to start your search. After that, look online on websites like Amazon and Ooni.com.

Buy Old World Pepperoni Online

If you’re like me and can’t find old world pepperoni near you, thankfully in this day and age we can find most things online. Amazon has a selection of quite a few brands of pepperoni and many of them fit the bill for “old world” style:

bridgford pepperoni What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer

Bridgford Old World Pepperoni

vermont pepperoni What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer

Vermont Smoke & Cure Pepperoni

foustmans pepperoni What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer

Foustman’s Artisanal Pepperoni

margherita pepperoni What Is Old World Pepperoni? Why 'Cup & Char' Pepperoni Is Such A Game Changer

Margherita Pepperoni Sticks

Final Thoughts

In exploring the rich and spicy flavor of Old World pepperoni, it’s clear that this type of salami (or sausage) offers a unique experience. Unlike regular varieties, Old World pepperoni boasts a blend of pork and beef that is cured to perfection and stuffed in a natural casing, contributing to its unique texture.

When incorporated into dishes like pizza rolls or simply laid on a slice of pizza, Old World pepperoni curls charmingly, adding texture and flavor. Its selection in your kitchen means embracing a variety of pepperoni styles, each offering something special. Just a few thinly sliced Old World pepperoni rounds on pizza dough can transform any pizza-making experience.

Whether you’re making your first pizza or are a seasoned enthusiast, it’s worth knowing about Old World pepperoni. So go ahead, try something a little different and enjoy Old World pepperoni on your next slice of pizza.

Related Questions:

What Is The Difference Between Classic Pepperoni & Old World Pepperoni?

Old world pepperoni is different from classic pepperoni in the way it’s prepared and the ingredients used to make it. Old world pepperoni is a high quality American sausage made with traditional seasonings, fermented and stuffed into a natural casing. By contrast, classic pepperoni is a mass-produced, industrialized meat product with relatively few seasonings and stuffed into an artificial casing. Another key difference is that old world pepperoni cups up when cooked while classic pepperoni stays flat.

Is Pepperoni From The New Or Old World?

Pepperoni was created in the New World by Italian-American immigrants in the early 20th century. Contrary to popular American belief, pepperoni does not come from Italy and is not familiar to most Italians. Instead, Italians eat different kinds of sausage and salami such as salsiccia Napoletana piccante and soppressata from southern Italy.

What Is The Pepperoni That Curls Up?

Old world style pepperoni is a kind of pepperoni that curls up in the oven under high heat. This curling is made possible by the use of natural casing and thick slicing and is popular for the “cup and char” effect it produces on pizza.

What Animal Is Pepperoni Made From?

In general, pepperoni is made from ground pork and beef combined with seasonings and bacterial culture. This mixture is then put into a natural or artificial casing, such as cow intestines, before being dried and cured. In the United States, pepperoni must be made from either pork alone or a pork and beef mixture. Pepperoni made from only 100% beef must, by law, be labeled as “beef pepperoni”.

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    1. Hi Susan. No, they are not! The recipe must have been corrupted by an update, but I’ve fixed it now. Use between 100-200 grams mozzarella and 30-40 grams pepperoni. Good luck!

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