Beloved on pizzas across the U.S., pepperoni is an Italian-American invention. The peppery, cured, air-dried sausage, i.e. salami, is softer and finer-grained than the spicy salame of Italy (where ordering peperoni will get you bell peppers on your pizza).
Americans eat more than 250 million pounds of it per year, most of which is probably on pizza, but it’s delicious anywhere you might use bacon or salami. Try adding it to a grilled cheese or piled onto a “PLT” sandwich, layered in lasagna or mac and cheese, diced into salads or served on charcuterie and cheese plates.
Its powerful flavors go well with many wines, too. Here are pairing ideas to highlight the primary flavors of pepperoni.
Made with mild red chile powder, pepperoni’s spiciness is more flavor than heat. Sangiovese has high acidity that can refresh the palate from its intense flavor, and its bright savory hint of cooked tomato make it a natural with pepperoni pizza.
Traditionally, pepperoni is made mostly of pork, with a small percentage of beef. Like the best salamis, that slightly funky pork flavor is what shines through. A dry Lambrusco makes a classic pairing with Italian cured meats, perfect where pepperoni is highlighted, like on a salumi platter.
Tannins and fats are friends. Fat softens coarse tannins, while tannins cleanse the mouth. To that end, Taurasi offers the most elegant expression of the rustic and tannic Aglianico grape, and its hints of game and leather work well with pepperoni.
Pepperoni isn’t typically smoked, but the paprika seasoning and aging process give it a subtle smokiness that can be accentuated by the right wine. Made from Cabernet Franc, red Chinon wines usually show light, sweet smokiness along with flavors of chile pepper that merge with the pepperoni’s spices.