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Pasta: good food, good business


Pasta: good food, good business Rome - (Ign) - The Romans called it "laganum", from the Greek "laganoz". It was a patty of flour, cooked in water, without yeast. When it was cut into ribbons before cooking, it was called "lagana". And today it is normally known as lasagna. Perhaps, however, the origins of pasta, this quintessential gastronomic emblem of Italian products, are even more ancient. They may date back to the Etruscan civilisation, as suggested by stucco reliefs from the sixth century before Christ, which represent the interior of a house, with cooking pot, rolling board and pasta hanging on wooden poles for drying. Basically, the story of pasta is very old either way, and started when man discovered the grains of wheat could be ground and made into flour. The reason why particularly in Italy this way of working flour became so traditional and successful is perhaps explained by the fact that for centuries in southern Italy there has been cultivated a type of wheat, durum, which is ideal for producing pasta of very high quality. So much so that it has become a symbol of Italy. In fact, every Italian eats 28 kg of pasta per year, an absolute record, when compared to the 9-12 kg assumed in the United States and Latin America, and to the 5-8 kg consumed in other European countries. And the production figures are also impressive: around 3 million tonnes per year, almost half of which is destined for export to markets all over the world. This represents around 40% of world production, which stands at just over 7 million tonnes per year and is in any case above all accounted for by foreign branches of Italian companies. Pasta is produced by almost 200 industrial pasta factories and no less than 5000 small pasta producers, for an overall turnover of over € 3 billion. These include companies of all sizes, from multinationals present in dozens of countries to small workshops, often specialising in the production of filled pasta (ravioli and tortellini), found throughout Italy, and not, as the traditional stereotype would have it, only or above all in the south.

Good food and business have thus found in pasta a solid and long-lasting point of contact. However, in reality, the industrial production of pasta is quite recent. Up until the 18th century there were hardly any production facilities, and pasta was produced at home or by a few craftsmen. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the first small production facilities were set up, but with extremely limited reduction capacity, also because drying pasta required great open spaces where wooden poles could be set up on which to hang the fresh product for days. At the beginning of the 20th century the first mechanical mixers were introduced, leading to the first small real companies in the sector. But it was only with the introduction of mechanical drying systems, in the 1930s, that the real industry of pasta production began. Today, industrial processing takes place in absolutely ascetic environments, with large-scale completely automated machinery. The mixture is even processed in a vacuum, to avoid the formation of bubbles, which would compromise successful cooking. Long strips of pasta are thus produced for drying, which takes place in enormous cells with controlled temperature and humidity. In the space of a few hours, the humidity in the pasta is reduced to less than 10%. The product is then cut to the required sizes using electronically controlled trimmers, finished and packed.

There are a vast number of sites dedicated to pasta, including www.pasta.it; www.italianpasta.net; www.museodellapasta.it, and the sites of leading producers
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