One of the most popular toppings on American-style pizza is a spicy Italian dry sausage called pepperoni. It is sold in solid sticks at many ethnic meat shops and delicatessens, or pre-sliced in vacuum packs at most grocery stores. Pepperoni destined for pizza topping may be approximately 1 inch (2.54 cm) in diameter, while that destined for use in Italian submarine sandwiches is often twice that size. Some pizza shops use a larger size slice to reduce the chances of it burning while in an extremely hot pizza oven.
Italian immigrants brought with them a tradition for curing meats and packing them into natural casings for drying and preservation. These dried and fermented sausages could be stored at room temperature for months, which would prove very useful during extended winters with little to no access to fresh meat. The dry sausage known as pepperoni was not a native Italian recipe, although there are several native salamis and sausages that use similar ingredients.
The name is an Italian-American variant on the original Italian word for spicy peppers, peperoni. The primary meat used in pepperoni is pork, followed closely by beef. These two meats are ground together and allowed to dry under refrigeration for a day before processing. Additional spices are added to the meat, including black pepper, sugar, anise seed, salt, cayenne pepper and paprika. Many people may assume the red color and peppery bite of pepperoni comes from the cayenne pepper, but it's actually the paprika that is primarily responsible for the color and heat of most sausages.
Once the spices and meat have been combined, the mixture is fed into a casing machine. A length of natural hog intestine casing or an edible collagen casing is placed on an extruder and the mixture is forced into the casing. At certain intervals, the filled casing is twisted and tied off with twine. The finished chain is then hung up to dry for at least 6 to 8 weeks until the pepperoni is fully cured. The individual links are then separated and sold to customers or sliced on a commercial slicing machine and packed for use in restaurants.
Pepperoni slices can be used to create a quick snack known as pepperoni crisps. They can also be added to sandwiches as a spicy cold cut, especially in combination with other Italian cured meats such as Genoa ham, salami and capicola. Pepperoni also meshes well with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, which is one reason it is such a popular topping on pizza. A combination of this sausage with Italian pork sausage and sliced mushrooms is considered a classic among avid pizza fans.