In Pursuit of Locally Sourced Pasta
As the local food movement continues to expand into more food offerings, one critical area still needs further discussion: locally sourced pasta. Why is it that very few people think about how much pasta is being consumed and produced locally? Consumers have the opportunity to speak to the marketplace and ask food companies to source Ontario grain, for pasta produced in Ontario.
Understanding Pasta Consumption
Statistics indicate North Americans consume about 26 pounds of pasta per capita each year. In contrast, Italians average over 60 pounds of pasta for every person in the country, including children. Pasta in Italy is made under strict government control from hard durum-wheat flour (something that can theoretically grow in the correct regions around the globe). This wheat flour is called semola di grano duro in Italy and semolina in English. Durum wheat flour is higher in protein, so it is better able to stand up to rigours of pasta making and cooking that softer bread flour does not need to have.
Why is it that most pasta in both Italy and North America comes from a box?
The easy answer is convenience. It is more comfortable and more convenient for consumers to use boxed pasta versus handmade pasta. Handmade pasta requires more work and is more expensive. Most consumers see pasta as a cheap and convenient option.
The other issue is instead of the hard and fast rules that we have been conditioned to follow (set by the Italian gov’t) why don’t we start thinking about enjoying pasta made in different styles because of the differences and the unique flavour/taste those regions create.
Many of the food companies that make pasta in North America source their wheat from North American farms. An opportunity exists to have someone step forward and make pasta in a better way, showcasing regional offerings, using locally sourced grains and teaching which will allow consumers to appreciate the differences.
Locally Sourced Example: SheWolf in Detroit
I will be frank. I never considered the Italian approach as an option in North American kitchens until I met and talked with Chef Anthony Lombardo at the Regenerate Heritage Grain Weekend Bread Camp last fall. His now open restaurant, SheWolf Pastificio & Bar in Detroit is pushing the boundaries of showcasing pasta made from grains sourced in the Great Lakes region. See if you notice the difference between the pasta made in-house versus other restaurants that don’t make it in-house. I am confident there will be a drastic difference.
Regenerate Heritage Grain Weekend Regional Pasta Workshop
This year at Regenerate during our Heritage Grain weekend we have added locally sourced pasta to our discussion and will start to explore the grain economy as an area of the culinary unknown. In our pre-weekend workshop, we will be holding a hands-on pasta making experience seeking to understand if some of the older varieties of wheat offer the potential to cause great pasta. Why not? High protein semolina is possible, and maybe we need to open up our culinary understanding to realize that not all pasta needs to be made or taste the same.
Learn more about the pasta workshop here.
Shortening the Supply Chain
Another crucial point about the weekend, conversations that lead you into a radically different way of thinking. Last year at the event, we had ⅓ of our attendees from the culinary community, ⅓ of our attendees being farmers and ⅓ being engaged eaters who are curious to learn. A great mix that allows excellent conversations to show up around every corner. I saw farmers talking with chefs, consumers talking to farmers and chefs talking with consumers and that is what the vision for the Regenerate Heritage Grains Weekend is about.
Many of us understand the various wine regions of the world, so why not the pasta regions? Why not build terroir through enlightening our palate towards wheat and pasta? Should it all cook the same? All questions I think we need to start challenging.
I leave this challenge with you, what if, in the next five years we move to have 5 pounds of the 26 pounds of pasta eaten annually, made from regionally grown high protein wheat? That is one pound a year, and I am sure there are some very knowledgeable chefs who see the potential in that statistic as it relates to the local food movement.