The process of manufacturing pasta has come along way since the days when strings of spaghetti were hung out on long lines on the streets of cities to dry in the sunshine. An eye catching and evocative image it may well be, not least reflecting the romantic ideal attached to the product that marketing departments continue to exploit. But it is certainly not a process in terms of size and scale that would satisfy the demands of either the global market or the big companies feeding the consumers' insatiable demand for such products.
As a result, industrial machinery has replaced human hands and pasteurizing plant has eliminated potential hygiene issues in order to ensure consumer confidence remains high.
Specialist ShopsDried pasta is manufactured in many of the large industrialised nations but the big supermarkets and the growing sector of delicatessens and Italian specialist shops tend to stock pasta products originating in Italy. De Cecco and Barilla are just two of the names that have become familiar to consumers.
The dough for dried pasta is made from semolina flour and water using automatic mixers to blend the ingredients in a centrifuge. Depending on the type of pasta required, the product is formed using either extrusion, lamination or shaping on a conveyor. The first method is utilised in the manufacture, for example, of spaghetti, maccheroni, and penne, where the dough is compressed at a high temperature and then forced out through metal dies to achieve the required shape. (For those that have wondered what the number that accompanies the name of a particular pasta on the packet refers to, it designates the particular die through which the semolina mix was forced.)
Twisting the PastaFlat products such as tagliatelle, lasagne and linguine are laminated, the dough flattened out into large sheets from which the desired length and width is cut. In the case of a twisted shape such as fusilli, conveyor machinery replaces the laborious of method of twisting the pasta.
The process then moves onto thermal dryers, sometimes at a temperature as high as 80 degrees centigrade, although some manufacturers believe a lower temperature achieves a better result, before automated packing where the finished pasta is sealed in either packets or boxes.
Quality control is another important aspect of the industrial operation. What tasters will be looking for is colour, firmness, and in the case of long, thin shapes such as linguine, that the product retains a certain amount of elasticity after the cooking process rather than limply curling up in the bowl.