Why does Rustichella rock?

We recently enjoyed a lightening visit from Gianluigi, the third generation owner of the family company Rustichella pasta, and decided to pass by Pianella in Abruzzo on the way north.

We have visited Rustichella before and the setting for the making of this benchmark artisan pasta remains unchanged. This region is one of rolling green hills, punctuated by ancient charming towns, a bracing clean chill in the air and relaxed friendly people. They refer to it as Tuscany without the marketing, so if you're looking to travel, keep it in mind.

We headed for Muscofo where the factory sits in the middle of farmland and olive groves, and donned the required white coat, hat and shoe covers before entering the pastificio.

Spaghetti  was being made at the time, so were greeted by the sight of long strands looped over metal hangers heading toward us before they turned and were wheeled into the temperature controlled drying room which has a different long low temperature regime for each of the many shapes they make. For the long lengths like linguine and spaghetti the loops are then cut off to allow them to be bagged.

What happens to the loops you might wonder? Apparently in other plants they are reused or cut into orzo, but at Rustichella they are sent to a gourmet dog food factory. Guess those dogs are Italian - just like their owners!

Why is Rustichella still regarded as top artisan pasta after all these years? A number of reasons. As well as constantly fine tuning how they do what they do, it starts, very simply, with the flour and the water.

Due to the flour they use, not only does this pasta have good flavour but also a naturally high, good quality protein content - around 14%. The pure local water is a factor, as well as the bronze extrusion of each shape from the high quality bronze dies which cost tens of thousands of Euro each and are replaced on a regular basis, as they themselves expand with use (spaghetti can become spaghettoni!). Quite an investment.

Many companies have old bronze dies they replace infrequently, if at all, and some more industrial companies have bronze coated teflon dies so they can call it bronze-extruded but the result is not the same. Industrial pasta is also dried at a higher temperature which is why some pasta has a brownish hue - the sugars in the wheat caramelise.

The bronze extrusion gives the pasta a porous surface to which a sauce will cling and in this case also a high yield - so one packet goes a long way. At Rustichella each different shape is dried for a different monitored time and there is a lot of quality control involved and employee pride in the end product. There is also much talk of its 'digestibility' - something the Italians take very seriously if you look at the number of high octane 'digestivo' on the market - think grappa and limoncello as a start!

Often when we visit a supplier we find something we are tempted to add to our range - and here it really comes down to: "which shape would Rustichella fans like to try next?"

Our latest shipment had just left, but we will be getting some samples of some more of their short shapes to try later in the year.

Tradition, pride, innovation and attention to detail are the name of the game at Rustichella and the proof is in the eating...



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