Pork and beef are first ground up and mixed together with spices and flavorings. Then, salt and sodium nitrite are added as curing agents to prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms. The nitrite also gives pepperoni its characteristic pink color. Next, the ground meat is inoculated with lactic acid bacteria, as in yogurt or cheese making. The ground meat can now be stuffed into casings, traditionally made of pig or sheep intestines, but now more commonly made of cellulose. Over the next two or three days the ground meat undergoes fermentation inside the casings. This is when the lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid, causing the meat’s pH to drop, a key step in preservation. Then, the sausages spend the next twelve to twenty days in a drying room to reduce the moisture level, also critical to preservation. After drying, the pepperoni is sliced, packaged, and shipped to supermarkets and restaurants where it can make its way onto our pizzas and subs.
Photography by Ben Pollard