In 1906, Darren Ezzo's great-grandfather made some of that sausage at his grocery store in Canastota, New York. Today, the family business, Ezzo Sausage, in Columbus, produces pepperoni for some of the country's most talked about pizzerias, like Apizza Scholls in Portland, Oregon and Emily in New York City. But when the Columbus business opened in opened in the late '70s, pepperoni wasn't yet popular: instead, they produced something called "sausage for pizza," made and sliced similar to today's pepperoni, but without the drying step
The ubiquitousness of pepperoni on American pizza (and not Italian) has something to do with that construction, says Ezzo. In Italy, he explains, pizza was just dough, baked, then topped with cheese and fresh basil, with tomatoes arriving from the New World and coming into the picture in the late 19th century. Meanwhile, in New York, Italians did their best to approximate using what they had. That meant using the ample tomatoes, but also substituting dried oregano for the fresh basil. Many of the meats they made from back home--capicola, he offers, as an example--took too long to make to be wasted on a pizza. "They needed something more accessible," so they substituted the short-process pepperoni. Ezzo's pepperonis only hang for one to three weeks, depending on the style, before they're sliced and sent to pizzerias, other meats can take months.
Pizza and pepperoni first collided, per Caplan’s research points, in the middle of the century. Sausage, bacon, and even other types of salami were common toppings in the ‘30s, he says, but the first evidence he found of pepperoni as a pizza topping came in 1950: a photo of a wall menu at a pizzeria called The Spot in New Haven, Connecticut. Then, he says, began to trickle into toppings selections around the country. Prior to that, it would have been on menus, but as an appetizer, like a cured meat plate, perhaps with pickles. “That’s how a lot of toppings made it onto pizza in the first place: people experimenting.”