The fine print
“An Italian pasta is good pasta”.
As a rule of thumb, it’s true – you don’t want to try and sell bad pasta to Italians, but for those who wish to go a little deeper – check out these parameters.
So how do you really know what is real Italian pasta? If I generalize the issue a little more – what is considered an Italian pasta? In our house it’s all about the ingredients, so “staying local” is not about the dish but goes all the way to the field. If we can support the local industry (not to mention carbon footprint) – we’re always in favor.
Well, first turn the pack of pasta and find where the flour comes from. Until not so long ago we used to buy either Rummo, which operates since 1846, and Garofalo, which pasta sates back to 1789. Respect. But reading through the fine print – shiver my timbers! – it seems that both companies don’t use Italian flour. At least not just Italian flour. Rummo blends in flour from Arizona, while Garofalo brings some of its pasta flour all the way from Australia. Australia! Although these are very good pasta brands, it doesn’t comply with our “staying local” policy/tendency.
The production actually takes place in Italy: Rummo in Benevento and Garofalo in Gragnano, two cities not far from Naples. But the two are not totally Italian kinds of pasta, even if Garofalo are allowed to print the IGP stamp on the pack, thanks to the water that takes part in the making of the pasta and comes from the local Aquifer. Very nice.
Now turn again the pack and look for the words “Trafilata al Bronzo”. If the pasta is as such the producer will put it in a clear spot
This phrase means that the metal tubes through which the pasta dough pass are made of bronze, and no Teflon, for example. Why does it matter? Well, the bronze is a micro-rough metal that prints its micro-roughness on the pasta, while Teflon is totally smooth. When the micro-rough pasta meets its “sauce mate” it manages to grasp it tighter to create a harmonious dish. So why using Teflon in the first place? The smooth surface decreases the hazards of producing deformed pasta and stopping the production lines.
The tubes metal affects also the color of pasta, another way of helping understand – on a VERY general scale – the pasta quality. Bronze tubes maintain the pale-yellow color of the grain, while bright yellow pasta means also that the drying process took place in high temperatures, in order to shorten times. The downside here is losing lots of the nutritional values you can find in pasta. There are, don’t look at me like that! Of course, all of the above refers to dry pasta and not a fresh one, which is naturally yellower.
If we are already in the nutritional values area, turn around the pack again and look for the protein percentage, which is related also to the cooking of the pasta and not only to building a proper diet. The higher protein percentage – the higher its ability to maintain its endurance and flexibility on the plate, which creates a tastier dish. It’s all connected.
So, which pasta do we buy and use?
An average Italian supermarket keeps a small variety of pasta brands which include, next to the “big names” also local ones. Wonderful V. and I chose to go with La Molisana or Voiello (which is controlled by Barilla, therefore enjoys its full logistic and marketing support), both committed to 100% Italian ingredients and processes. As you imagine, the price range varies according to the quality of produce: all-Italian pasta is more expensive than an imported-flour one, bronze-tube made is more expensive than the Teflon ones, and so on.
Besides the price which is a crucial point, especially in Italy where pasta is consumed almost on a daily basis, there are other criteria to choose from: Rummo for whom a Kosher pasta is important; La Molisana declares that the decortication process is done on a stone that keeps most nutritional values of the grain, some sort of a “semi whole wheat”; Garofalo with the high protein percentage; or Voiello that has a little bit of everything.
You’re granted a free choice.
Well, as far as reality allows.