Pasta and terroir are not words you’d usually associate with each other.
In the industrial production of pasta, the goal is standardization and uniformity, achieved by blending grains of different origins and qualities to create a product that looks the same way, cooks the same way, and tastes the same way, year after year.
But one pasta company decided to go the opposite way.
“Our idea was very close to the idea of winemakers—that if you take the vine and plant it in different areas of the world, you would have totally different results,” said Riccardo Felicetti, CEO of Pastificio Felicetti.
Its pasta has won praise from chefs such as Massimo Bottura, who recommended it as one of the dried pastas of excellent quality from Italy. In New York, Francine Segan, a food historian who judges products for the Specialty Food Association awards, said the pastas exuded aromas as soon as they were put into boiling water. “Each of the pastas has a nuanced unique aroma, texture, and flavor. There are notes of sweet dried fruit, hints of roasted hazelnuts, and warm freshly baked bread with butter. The kamut pasta even has a lovely floral aroma found in so many fine wines,” she said.
The line Monograno Felicetti includes organic pastas made of farro, kamut, and durum wheat, each the result of years of research. Nutritionally speaking, the pasta also contains 30 percent more protein and three times the fiber of standard pasta.
For farro alone, five years were needed to narrow it down from 200 to 30 farro varieties, which were then seeded in different areas. In the end, the chosen spot that produced the best-tasting pasta was the national park of Monti Sibillini in Umbria, where most of the company’s farro production now takes place. After similar exhaustive research, the company grows its kamut in Montana and Canada.
But that’s just the first terroir to consider.
“We have to watch two terroirs: the one of the grain and the one where the pasta is produced,” Felicetti said.
Its greatest assets are the water and air of Predazzo, Italy, perched at 3,340 feet in the Dolomite Mountains of northwest Italy, where 60 tons of pasta are produced daily.
Since 1908, five family generations have made pasta there, going back to Felicetti’s great-grandfather Valentino, at a time where the region was not even Italian—it was then in the lower reaches of the Austrian empire.
The pasta is made the same day that the grain is ground into flour, with flowing fresh water from the Dolomites Mountains, and dried in mountain air.
“Think about putting a towel to dry outside, in the mountain air or in the middle of Mexico City,” Felicetti said. “If you dry with polluted air, the moisture will go but the pollution will remain. So when you put the pasta in the water, the foreign taste will remain. In our case, it’s not the same.
“We are the sole company in the world which can source water from a UNESCO [World Heritage] site, the Dolomites. [Finding] much purer than this, it’s quite difficult,” he said.
Felicetti is also president of the International Pasta Organization, and these days, being in the pasta business means facing a lot of carbophobia.
One of the biggest myths about pasta, he said, is “that pasta makes you fat. I am the perfect example that it’s not true. I eat it every day but I’m not covering it with fatty, heavy sauce.” Not to mention that the portions of pasta eaten by Italians are generally smaller than their American counterparts—only about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces of dried pasta, versus America’s huge platters.
Pasta, he explained, is also low on the glycemic index (an indicator of blood sugar levels after eating), never over 50. In comparison, the glycemic index for bread is in the 70s or 80s.
How it’s cooked also makes a difference.
Cooking it al dente (literally “to the tooth”), as opposed to soft and overcooked, also yields pasta lower on the glycemic index and contributes to slower absorption and release of energy. In other words, it keeps you fuller for longer.
Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of the non-profit Oldways, which promotes health through cultural food traditions, noted that pasta is different from other refined grains. “It sustained people for generations—there’s plenty of science that shows how healthy the Mediterranean diet is,” she said.
But were it only for reasons of taste alone, one would gladly get pasta right.
A few years ago, Felicetti was invited to the home of one of his sales representatives in Germany. She offered to cook him spaghetti.
“It was such a small pan for both of us. She put cold water in and then took 300 grams of spaghetti and broke them and put them in the water and then turned on the gas,” Felicetti recalled, “I said, ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing?'” Felicetti had her throw that batch away and showed her how to cook the next one properly. “She said, ‘Oh, this tastes different!’ Ma dai!”
Monograno Felicetti is available at Eataly and FreshDirect.
ALSO: Recipes often gloss over how to cook pasta well. Those details make all the difference.