There are old, enduring food companies, and then there are old, enduring Italian food companies. The former might involve some talented and enterprising chef from the 1950s developing a new recipe and sharing it successfully with the world. But Italy has been around for a long time. Companies founded in the twentieth century are practically newborns. Italy’s old companies were founded when the American flag still had the same number of stars as it did stripes. Certainly, that was the case with Garofalo Pasta, a company that traces its roots to 1789 in Gragnano, southeast of Naples.
The region is known universally as pasta’s homeland because of its local environment, with water perfect for preparing pasta and air perfect for drying it. Centuries ago, the King of Naples ordered construction of a “bronze man” there—a machine designed to make pasta for the masses. Later, Michele Garofalo earned a formal endorsement by the municipality of Gragnano to mass produce his pasta, which was considered exceptionally fine.
I mean, can you imagine how good your pasta has to be in order to be considered the best by the Italians? Good news: You don’t have to. Garofalo built two plants—one for long pasta, and one for short. By the 1920s, Garofalo had what was likely the largest pasta factory in the world, and today, their pasta is available everywhere—including your local Rouses.
To understand what makes pasta exceptional, it’s best to start at the beginning: What is pasta, anyway? Most of us go from cradle to grave knowing it only as hard yellow stuff in a box or bag—an instant delight, just add boiling water. But from scratch, fresh pasta at its simplest is made with flour, water, an egg, and salt, all combined, kneaded, flattened and sliced. After that, just boil and serve.
The semolina wheat that underlies Garofalo Pasta was farmed in three countries on three continents: Italy, Australia, and Arizona. The wheat must possess a certain flavor profile to make it to earn the Garofalo name. From there it is processed using sometimes centuries-old techniques.
And that’s the secret. When you’ve been doing something for hundreds of years, you learn how to do it right, but more importantly, you fully internalize the process. It becomes intrinsic to your culture. In the 19th century, seventy percent of Gragnano worked in the pasta industry, making the Italian specialty bonded on an almost molecular level with the city and its people. (This is much in the same way that everyone in the south seems to know how to boil crawfish. It’s just everywhere, like oxygen or language. You somehow know how to do it even if you’ve never done it before.)
For much of the modern age, the city’s very architecture has evolved into a kind of open-air pasta preparation system. The main street was literally designed for the mountain winds and sea air to sweep through, drying pasta hanging on long lines. The city’s bronze machines still press pasta into shapes, and in the case of Garofalo, every package should taste like every other—an unbroken chain of flavor that goes back hundreds of years. Those centuries of preparing pasta, and our centuries of eating it, promise that Garofalo will continue to sate appetites for centuries more to come.