** NEW: Visit the Martelli Pasta Factory in Tuscany (Free Italy Travel Advice) **


Dino Martelli can be forgiven for interrupting our conversation every five minutes or so. He has to move the pasta and today, like many days here at Pasta Martelli in Tuscany, he’s the only one minding the 60-year-old machines at the small factory his family has run for 88 years. Martelli, sporting a factory coat in his company’s trademark bright yellow, has an internal clock of sorts alerting him when to move a row of freshly crafted spaghettini from the extrusion machine to a drying rack. (Martelli produces four pasta shapes — spaghettini, spaghetti, penne and maccheroni — each day of the week is devoted to producing a certain shape.)

I’m here in the town of Lari, in the shadow of a 12th-century castle, to see where the pasta many call “Italy’s best” is born. It’s certainly deemed the best by some of Italy’s most famous restaurants. La Pergola, Rome’s Michelin-starred restaurant, serves Martelli pasta. This pasta is a true artisanal product.

Members of the Martelli family are the only employees here and they are devoted to a slower process that produces a higher quality product. Martelli produces 300 tons of pasta per year. That’s about the same amount that Italian industrial producer Barilla produces in just five hours. Food critics say Martelli pasta is superior because it retains its flavor and the use of bronze dies to extrude the dough leaves the surface of the pasta porous for better sauce absorption.

|image4| Between his manufacturing duties, Dino Martelli explains how Martelli pasta is unique:

Raw materials: Martelli pasta is made from a mixture of 70% Italian wheat (sourced from the Maremma area of Tuscany) and 30% Canadian wheat (considered one of the best in the world). It is this unique mixture that gives Martelli pasta its particular tension. The wheat is then mixed with cold water (at a 70/30 ratio).

Slow extrusion: Martelli only uses only bronze dies in its manufacturing. Industrial pasta manufacturers usually use teflon-lined dies which produce pasta with polished surfaces that doesn’t hold sauce well.

Drying process: Once the pasta has been formed, it goes through a slower, more natural drying process than industrial products use. The pasta goes into drying closets with curved tin walls to move around the air from fans at the top. It is essential for the humidity of the air to change at certain stages in the drying process. The temperature is kept at about 91 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit for about 50 hours of drying; these specific conditions depend on the time of year and weather.

|image3| Most industrial producers dry their pasta for only five hours or so. Dino Martelli says his company is the only manufacturer who still uses these traditional drying closets. The drying temperatures here are lower than those used at industrial factories, ensuring that the gluten survives and gives the pasta additional flavor.

Everything here at Martelli goes back to tradition — even the eye-popping yellow color of their packaging. Many years ago when pasta was sold by weight at the local market, the wooden bins tht held the pasta were lined in yellow paper. Thus the provenance of the color is the colored paper that used to be used in wooden boxes from which the pasta was sold at the local market.

The Martellis warmly welcome visitors to their factory in Lari. Call (39) 0587 684238 or visit their website at www.famigliamartelli.it If you’d like to try Martelli pasta but you won’t be in Tuscany any time soon, you can order it online at www.gustiamo.com and www.zingermans.com