The romance of pasta in Gragnano, according to Pastificio dei Campi’s Giuseppe di Martini, began centuries ago when the Roman legions stored their grain here. Today, this little village of 27,000 people supplies 15.5% of the Italian export of pasta. It is the capital of Pasta and has received the Protected Geographic Indication designation (like the DOP).
And there is something more. “We use a bronze dye,” he explains. “The extrusions through shape-makers are made of bronze instead of Teflon. Teflon makes it all work 10 times faster, and gives a very smooth and slippery surface and interior. Bronze makes it rough, and those tiny micro-fractures increase the surface contact to the water and the sauce. The tiny rough particles make an emulsion with the sauce and it coats the pasta. The sauce stays on the pasta and not in a pool at the bottom of the bowl. So you need less sauce and less oil, and it makes pasta be the thing it was invented for: to get the sauce inside your mouth. Who knew? I will never look at an order of pasta in a restaurant in the same way again. “Every shape was made for a particular sauce,” says Giuseppe, “in the same way every dress requires a particular pair of shoes.” For example, “Spaghetti does not go with bolognaise, Spirali goes with bolognaise.”
“All the wheat used to make our pasta is grown within 70 – 80 miles of the factory. We have used Google Maps, and on each box there is a production date code. Put that code on your website, and Google Maps takes you to the field, and there is a picture of the farmer, a picture of the field, the day of seeding, the day of harvesting. It is a total tracking system. Each box of pasta has the photographs of the people who work at the plant.” When I eat pasta from Pastificio dei Campi in Gragnano, I am the last link in fulfilling the documented destiny of a sheaf of wheat. That’s some responsibility.
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Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.