What is Old World Pepperoni? And Why You Need It

When you hear about pepperoni, pizza is the first thing to comes to mind. You imagine those little red circles of pure bliss adorning your cheesy, saucy pizza. Upon taking a bite, you love the oily, spicy, peppery kick it adds to an already-perfect pie. Pepperoni is the most common pizza topping for a good reason!

Old world pepperoni is another type of high-quality pepperoni that is distinctly different than the type you might be used to, and many pizza connoisseurs can easily spot the difference. Not only is it delicious, but old world pepperoni is the meat that “cups” upon cooking in a hot oven, becoming an oil cup of spicy deliciousness. You have probably seen this on a pizza-lover’s social media or from a highly-rated restaurant.

Let’s look at why old world pepperoni, also known as pepperoni sausage, is the best option for any homemade pizza!

Origin of Pepperoni

To start, we must examine what pepperoni exactly is. In America, pepperoni is a cured dry pork and beef salami that is flavored with paprika or chili peppers. Some varieties are spicier than others. Deli pepperoni is large enough for a sandwich, such as an Italian sub. Smaller, cured pepperoni is what you will commonly find on American pizza.

Pepperoni is an Italian-American creation that originated in the early 1900s. The first time pepperoni was publicly talked about was in a New York written publication in 1919. While the original creator is unknown, pepperoni was created to resemble spicy Sicilian dry sausage. American pepperoni is not as spicy as it’s predecessor, but it certainly is tasty and has a slight kick.

Since it’s creation, pepperoni has become a staple cured sausage in American food. Every single pizza restaurant offers it as one of their most popular pies. It’s salty, slightly chewy texture lends well to many different dishes, especially pizza.

This NY Style pizza I baked used old world pepperoni, which cupped due to natural casings.

What Does Old World Pepperoni Mean?

Old world pepperoni refers to one of the many high-quality varieties and styles of American pepperoni. It distinctly uses natural casings, typically using the lining of a sheep’s stomach. This refers to the “old” Italian-style way of making salami using natural casing, pork or beef, and chilies. It features a dark red color thanks to paprika and a variety of mild and spicy chilies. 

Old world is also commonly referred to as “the old country” by Italian-Americans, meaning Italy or Sicily. The style of pepperoni making is similar to that of old world dry sausage. Because Italians have been curing meats for centuries, “old world” is a term of endearment. It means that a lot of love and craftsmanship went into making this delicious dry sausage.

Why Does Old World Pepperoni “Cup” When Cooked?

A distinction of old world pepperoni is that many want it on their pizza. When you see a high-quality image of a pepperoni pizza, you’ll often notice that the pepperoni has shrunk slightly in the oven, causing the edges to cease and the middle to become “cupped”. Hot pepperoni oil collects in that cup while cooking, leading to a pizza flavor bomb!

One of the most notable types of pizza that utilizes cupped pepperoni is Detroit style. Most amazing Detroit pizzas have pepperoni cups that catch all that spicy pepperoni oil. Upon cooking, not only does the oil collect in the cup, but the edges of the pepperoni char from the high heat. That crispy, greasy pepperoni is the best part of the entire pizza!

Spicy detroit pizza
Detroit style pizza with Old World pepperoni on it.


None of this pepperoni magic would be possible without the casings surrounding old world pepperoni. Regular, store-bought pepperoni does not curl like old world pepperoni does, and the difference only lies in the casing.

Store-bought pepperoni is fantastic, and it certainly has it’s time and place in the food world. Regular pepperoni often uses cellulose, collagen, or plastic to shape their sausage. Those items do not constrict under high heat, therefore, this style of pepperoni will not cup. Old world pepperoni will always cup because of the natural sheep casing ceasing in high heat. The heat causes the sheep lining to constrict, like most meats do, leading to a smaller outside and a rounded middle.

Best Recipes for Old World Pepperoni

This high-quality style of pepperoni deserves a high-quality recipe to pair it with. It is one of the fancier pizza meats, so lets treat it well. Because of all the delicious flavor from the paprika and chilies, old world pepperoni will spruce up any recipe!

Homemade Detroit-style pizza is our first choice for utilizing old world pepperoni. The pepperoni cups are essential in this type of pizza. Try making our tried and true Detroit pizza and be sure to source some locally made old world pepperoni. It will not only be scrumptious, but it will also be visually stunning!

Old world pepperoni goes great on any pizza; New York-style, Grandma style, Chicago, Neapolitan – anything! Just be sure to use a very hot pizza oven to get your perfect little curls on your old world pepperoni. Even kids love the little cups on top of their pizza!

If all this talk about pepperoni cups hasn’t made you hungry yet, we don’t know what will! Old world pepperoni is a high-quality, delicious, fatty dry-cured sausage that should top all pizzas. The charred cups of spicy oil make for the best pizza you have ever had, no matter what crust or sauce recipe in under them. Now, it is time to make some pepperoni pizza!

The Best Old World Pepperoni

There is a big quality difference in brands. And, unfortunately, distribution of the good stuff can be limited in the US. Ezzo Supreme pepperoni is often considered the absolute best for cupping and charring. They have a large list of distributors but it can still be very difficult to find. PennMac, based in Pittsburgh, sells it online but you will pay a good chunk of change for shipping – so be sure to stock up on some good cheeses as well to make it worth it!

Hormel Rosa Grande is an equal counterpart to Ezzo in our testing, however it is often only sold in bulk quantities from restaurant supply stores (we’re talking ~10lbs of pepperoni per order).

Cheaper, More Accessible Options

Battistoni Cup & Char Spicy Pepperoni, Single 5oz Pouch
  • Made with pork and beef
  • Pops on your pizza into little bacon-y cups
  • Bold flavor - has a kick but not too spicy
Margherita Brand VERY BEST Pepperoni HUGE 17" Sticks, 1.25LBS EA, 3 Sticks
  • Top Selling Pepperoni - WORLD FAMOUS
  • All Natural Casing
  • 3 LARGE Sticks - 1.25 LBS EACH!

Written by Derek Gaughan

Derek Gaughan is the Founder and Content Lead for Pala Pizza. He's been featured in PMQ Magazine, The Washington Post, and Home & Gardens. Derek holds an MBA from Pennsylvania State University and is a trained pizzaiolo, specializing in New York style, Neapolitan, and Detroit pizzas.

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