From spaghetti to fusilli, why artisan pasta made with love by Italian family-run businesses is worth the money

extra virgin olive oil

For Italians, pasta is their daily bread – some even eat it twice a day. It is a communal dish – one that families enjoy while talking over the dinner table. However, unless they have a traditional granny at home making fresh egg pasta, most rely on packaged pastasciutta – dry pasta.

Not all packaged pasta is created equal. At the supermarket, you’ll find mass-produced brands such as Barilla and De Cecco. You need to go to a high-end store or restaurant to get a taste of real artisan-made pastasciutta.

“Artisan pasta is a galaxy of its own,” says Anna Maria Pellegrino, a member of Italy’s Cuisine Academy. “There’s generations-old know-how and great quality behind the small niche brands, but even here we need to make a distinction: there are packages of dried durum wheat or whole wheat pasta, and packages of dried pasta made with eggs, which is a shelved version of fresh pasta.”

Thanks to small-scale production, premium ingredients and slow processing techniques, artisan packaged pasta is at least three times more expensive than industrially made pasta, and comes in fewer shapes.

extra virgin olive oil

Spaghettoni being made at the Benedetto Cavalieri mill and pasta factory. Photo: Benedetto Cavalieri

The Cavalieri family, from the picturesque town of Maglie in the gorgeous, sunny Puglia region in Italy’s south, has been growing fine, select durum wheat since the 1800s.

“In 1918, my great-grandfather, Benedetto, opened our mill and pasta factory inside our family’s building, which is still divided into floors for the various production steps,” says Andrea Cavalieri, CEO and president of Benedetto Cavalieri. “He was the first to realise that pasta couldn’t be left to dry in the open air under a sultry sun in the middle of the street, which was quite unhygienic.”

extra virgin olive oil

The Cavalieri family comes from Maglie in the Puglia region in Italy’s south. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

The brand makes 45 different pasta shapes (some with whole wheat) including ruota pazza, which looks like irregularly shaped wagon wheels, and spaghettoni – long, thick spaghetti bent into the shape of a hairpin. It exports to 36 countries and is eyeing the Chinese market.

But what makes Benedetto Cavalieri pasta different to other brands?

First, the quality of the raw materials. The wheat is grown in Italy, from Puglia and the nearby Basilicata region, unlike that used by the giant firms which buy theirs from overseas to meet their production targets. It is cultivated without chemical fertilisers that increase yield at the expense of quality. The water used comes from the Sele, a river running near Maglie through hills dotted with olive groves.

extra virgin olive oil

Benedetto Cavalieri spaghettoni is folded over before being dried. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

The Cirillo Method (named after inventor Michele Cirillo) is used to dry the pasta with a hot water heater and a fan. “The drying process is slow,” Cavalieri says. “It runs for at least 40 hours at a constant warm temperature, as opposed to the extremely high temperatures used in industrial pasta making to speed up the drying to eight hours, which is why my factory makes only three tonnes [6,600 pounds] of pasta a day versus the 120 tonnes made by big groups.”

All this justifies prices for 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of Benedetto Cavalieri pasta that start at €3 (US$3.64) and go up to €9 for long pasta, compared to Barilla spaghetti which sells for €1.

This Puglia pastasciutta uses a delicate method of production consisting of long kneading, slow pressing and drying to preserve the durum wheat’s nutritional value, taste and consistency.

extra virgin olive oil

Benedetto Cavalieri ruota pazza looks like irregularly shaped wagon wheels. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

Cavalieri adds that cooking artisan pasta can be harder than industrially made pasta.

“You need to keep a constant eye, and taste it to know when it’s al dente – not mushy, not hard, but tender yet consistent. When biting, it should feel meaty and fleshy. It should give you a pleasant chewiness and the slightly sweet flavour of wheat.”

Benedetti Cavalieri pasta absorbs the flavours of ingredients it is served with, be it tomato sauce, ricotta cheese or mozzarella. Cavalieri says the best way to appreciate it is with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated pecorino cheese.

extra virgin olive oil

The Martelli family does everything on its own, from making the pasta to packaging it.

Artisan pasta factories are mostly family-run, with a restricted group of relatives supervising the production process and leading the management. One family does everything on its own without the use of any external help.

The Martelli family knead the pasta, hand-package it and tie it off with their signature bow. The business is small-scale – from the hamlet of Lari in Tuscany, population 1,000 – yet it has managed to export its pasta all over the world.

“We work side-by-side in our factory at the foot of the old castle. We’ve remained faithful to the good old days of artistry pasta making, when my grandfather and his brother were handed the firm in 1926 by the former owners who had no heirs,” says Laura Martelli, who handles sales and exports.

extra virgin olive oil

Although the Martelli family business consists of just eight people, it produces 75 tonnes of pasta a week.

The wheat used is top-notch and uses virtually zero food miles, as it comes from a mill that mainly uses Tuscan wheat. Although the family business consists of just eight people, it produces 75 tonnes of pasta a week, packaged in a yellow bag that harks back to the end of the 1800s when pasta in Tuscany was sold wrapped around a yellowish-brown straw paper.

“Our annual production is equal to what one giant pasta firm makes in just four hours. That means 50 hours only to dry one nutrient-rich spaghetti plate. Low temperature drying is slower, more expensive and has a lower yield, but greater quality. We don’t use computers to programme drying, just our experience, and we weigh the pasta with our hands before packaging it,” Martelli says.

Her family, just like the Cavalieris, are proud of their slow drying process, kept at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for 50 hours. The factory’s drying rooms, where the pasta rests in permeable wooden containers, have huge fans to make sure air constantly circulates and to avoid humidity building up.

extra virgin olive oil

Martelli pasta resting in permeable wooden containers.

The slow process ensures that bellies don’t bloat after eating a plateful of Martelli pasta. “Digestibility is key. High temperatures destroy the natural enzymes in the pasta and lower its consistency. Dough worked quickly and with hot water is subject to stress that affects the pasta.

“We knead the flour with cold water, and we do it slowly to avoid deteriorating the quality and compromising the most precious elements: gluten and carbohydrates. The dough is then drawn gently through a bronze die: this creates a porous and rough pasta, perfect for absorbing the sauce when mixed together.”

It’s another world when compared to the big players. A total of 4 million tonnes of pasta is made each year in Italy, and Barilla produces one-quarter of that.

extra virgin olive oil

Martelli fusilli pasta. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

There are an estimated 300 different pasta types and shapes made in the country. Martelli pasta comes in five varieties: penne, spaghetti, spaghettini, fusilli and maccheroni. The penne is made without ridges which, according to Martelli, was an invention made by the big industry producers to capture sauce better and to compensate for their pasta’s poor absorbency.

“Smooth penne are typically Tuscan, and our pasta contains a lot of starch which releases a sort of delicate coating enabling it to amalgamate ingredients and enhance flavour,” she says.

Martelli pasta can be found in restaurants in Italy, and at deluxe food boutiques for roughly €5 per 500 grams – and as with Benedetto Cavalieri pasta, it’s money worth spending.

News Related


Tiger Global leads BharatPe to the unicorn club with USD 370 million Series E round

New York-headquartered Tiger Global has invested in over a dozen Indian startups and has poured in around USD 300 million in the last seven months. Read more »

China has the world's tightest rules for video games, and they may get even stricter

Tencent has proposed changes to gameplay limitations in Honor of Kings, the top-grossing game worldwide for multiple months this year. Read more »

Teahouse chain Nayuki says regulators find no cockroaches or rotten fruits in outlets after media report triggers backlash

Chinese milk tea company Nayuki Holdings said mainland authorities found no food safety problems at its outlets as reported by state-run Xinhua in its first major brush with regulators since ... Read more »

Vegetarian dosa, early morning dim sum, Thai food that takes you right back to Bangkok - favourite restaurants of a New Delhi native in Hong Kong

New Delhi native Vidur Yadav is a partner in Bengal Brothers (6 Johnston Road, Wan Chai,, which serves grab-and-go Indian street snacks, kati rolls and rice bowls. He talks ... Read more »

China's video game crackdown: state-backed industry group plays down regulatory moves as narrow and targeted

China’s state-backed gaming industry association broke its silence on Tuesday night, following a market rout earlier in the day, saying online games are not “fierce floods or savage beasts” and ... Read more »

Which K-pop songs have been played at the Tokyo Olympics? BTS fan Kang Chae-young got Blackpink's Boombayah instead – but Butter and Dynamite are on the pump-up playlist

K-pop anthems have made a notable presence at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with a plethora of Korean bangers being played during the games to pump up the mood – despite ... Read more »

Lifestyle retailer Nykaa becomes first women-led unicorn to file for IPO in India

With the listing, nine-year-old Nykaa—one of the very few profitable e-commerce companies—is reportedly eying a valuation of USD 4 billion. Read more »

5 key stats from Mambu's report on Islamic banking's significance

Gen Z and Millennial Muslims are willing to adopt Islamic banking if it becomes more accessible and mobile-friendly. Read more »

Australian Manuka Honey Association to use Oxford dictionary in trademark battle with New Zealand

The Oxford Dictionary could define the future for Australian producers in the billion-dollar manuka honey industry when a legal dispute about New Zealand’s attempt to trademark the name is heard ... Read more »

K-drama midseason recap: Nevertheless – Netflix romance explores youthful uncertainty and LGBT feelings

This article contains spoilers. Life can be very confusing when we’re young. Much of our emotional growth happens in that sensitive period after we’ve left high school, as we enter ... Read more »

‘Stealth investment': Chinese money finds its way into Indian tech as IPOs boom

With Chinese investors facing rules restricting their participation in Indian companies, players in India’s flourishing tech scene have turned to Japanese conglomerate Softbank and other Western investors to fill the ... Read more »

Blackpink and Grimes collaboration? Jennie posted Instagram snaps from SpaceX, plus Elon Musk and his partner go way back with K-pop …

Plenty of Western celebrities have shown their love for K-pop, from Cruella’s Emma Stone to F9’s John Cena. Now we have two more names to add to the list: Grimes ... Read more »

India welfare payments go digital with e-RUPI system

Mobile platform also covers public services in bid to target spending. Read more »

Chinese edtech giants cancel earnings releases amid government crackdown

Two US-listed edtech companies, New Oriental and TAL Education, will not disclose quarterly financial results for the three months ended June 30. Read more »

UK considers blocking Nvidia's takeover of Arm over potential national security risks

The UK is considering blocking a takeover of Arm Ltd by Nvidia Corp due to potential risks to national security, according to people familiar with the discussions. Nvidia, the biggest ... Read more »

6 crazy K-pop idol scouting stories: Exo's Baekhyun and Shinee's Key and Taemin got their starts in more unusual ways than most ...

For the most part, K-pop idols enter the industry in a pretty straightforward way. They get scouted, join auditions and pass them. But some stars have more unusual scouting stories. ... Read more »

China's exports of sophisticated tech products grew despite US-China trade war tariffs, Harvard study shows

The technological level of China’s exports increased through the trade war with the United States, according to a new ranking, which predicts the Chinese economy will grow faster than India’s ... Read more »

Hong Kong stocks advance as Tencent recovers from panic selling and investors refocus on growth support

Hong Kong stocks advanced as Tencent Holdings rebounded from a panic sell-off stoked by renewed regulatory concerns and traders looked forward to policy support in China to shore up faltering ... Read more »

American giant In-N-Out Burger sues Australian business for trademark infringement

The owner of an Australian business accused of ripping off In-N-Out Burger’s trademark has hit out at the American fast food giant for sending him “pressuring” letters before slapping him ... Read more »

Hong Kong's Esquel Group scores a win in its bid to get Xinjiang unit removed from US forced-labour blacklist

Esquel Group, one of the world’s biggest shirtmakers, won a rare victory in its effort to get one of its subsidiaries removed from a United States government blacklist over allegations ... Read more »

China goes back to rationing as authorities in Wuhan introduce ‘housing ticket' to cool surging property prices

China has taken countless measures over the years to cool the red-hot property market. It has introduced ceilings on borrowings, limited the number properties that an individual can own and ... Read more »

Record prices of mid-sized Hong Kong flats driven by first-time buyers taking advantage of relaxed mortgage rules, say analysts

More first-time buyers have been piling in to Hong Kong’s property market, driving up the prices of mid-sized flats in out-of-town locations, according to analysts. Homes measuring between 431 square ... Read more »

Obese mice lose weight ‘sweating out' fat in an immune system experiment, despite eating more

In search of better treatments for type 2 diabetes and other consequences of obesity, Taku Kambayashi has long wondered if he could harness a bodily function that most think about ... Read more »

China's booming EV industry faces overcapacity issues and this will see consolidation and closures, analyst says

China’s electric vehicle (EV) industry, growing fast amid strong take-up of the new technology, will likely face a period of excess capacity in the near-term amid a glut of unwanted ... Read more »

How the Meghan Markle effect transformed the fortunes of three fashion brands, from the makers of a white shirt to a baby blanket

From that interview with Oprah Winfrey to the birth of her second child, Lilibeth, Meghan Markle has continued to capture our attention since she and her husband Prince Harry decamped ... Read more »

How Tencent missed its chance join the trillion-dollar club: a brief history

At the beginning of 2021, the trillion-dollar club almost added a new member: Tencent Holdings. However, the social media and gaming giant saw its momentum flag as China’s government ramped ... Read more »

Huawei earmarks US$100 million for Asia-Pacific start-ups to use its cloud services as it seeks respite from US sanctions

Huawei Technologies Co has earmarked US$100 million to encourage start-ups in Asia-Pacific to use its cloud software as the Chinese telecoms giant accelerates a move to bolster revenue from software ... Read more »

China investigates chip hoarding as carmakers continue to struggle amid global semiconductor shortage

China’s antitrust watchdog has launched an investigation into car chip distributors suspected of hoarding critical semiconductors to intentionally drive up prices amid a global chip shortage that has already led ... Read more »

K-pop must-listen releases in August 2021 from Blackpink, NCT's Ten, Red Velvet, TXT and more

K-pop is full of acts looking to be the summer hit of 2021. August will see high-profile releases from some of the industry’s most prominent female acts, as well as ... Read more »

Climate change: World should focus on delivering commitments instead of setting new goals, China's top envoy says

The world should focus on delivering decarbonisation promises and engage in international technological cooperation, rather than arguing over agreed upon goals, according to Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate change envoy. Xie, ... Read more »

China's summer tourism grinds to halt as coronavirus Delta variant spreads and ‘tourists are scared away'

Any business recovery that China’s tourism operators were hoping for this summer holiday season has been thwarted following the latest outbreak of Covid-19 said to have originated in Nanjing. In ... Read more »

Israeli firms Carbyne, Edgybees partner to improve disaster response

The integration of the two companies will combine Edgybees’ AI-centric software solution and Carbyne’s 911 video capabilities. Read more »

Four in five tenants and workers at Jurong Fishery Port are fully vaccinated: Grace Fu

Ms Grace Fu (left) said tenants of the port were progressively opening their stalls and adapting to the enhanced safe management measures. SINGAPORE – Around 80 per cent of tenants ... Read more »

Hong Kong's overall property deals to take a breather after coming within touching distance in July of pre-protests high

Hong Kong’s overall property transactions are expected to take a breather this month after rising to a 26-month high in July, close to levels seen before the city’s anti-government protests ... Read more »

Alibaba's first quarter revenue surges as competition among China's big internet firms ramps up amid shifting regulatory landscape

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding reported a 34 per cent increase in revenue for the quarter ended June 30 as competition among China’s big internet companies ramps up amid a shifting ... Read more »

Covid-19 antibody test: what does your result mean? Why a high score is good but doesn't tell the whole story

Standing in a taxi queue recently I overheard a middle-aged man say to a woman of similar age ahead of him in line, “I got 650”. Whatever he was referring ... Read more »

China's top propaganda agencies want to limit the role of algorithms in distributing online content

China’s top state propaganda organs, which decide what people can read and watch in the country, have jointly urged better “culture and art reviews” in China partly by limiting the ... Read more »

SoftBank-backed Policybazaar files draft prospectus for USD 810 million IPO

The company plans to utilize the proceeds from the IPO to enhance awareness of its brands, expand its international businesses, and establish an offline presence. Read more »

China vows to crack down on high-risk banks as economy's post-coronavirus rebound slows

Chinese regulators say they will “spare no effort” as part of a clamp down on high-risk financial institutions, including using targeted anti-corruption investigations, amid a flush of liquidity generated by ... Read more »

How to Write a Cookbook

Writing a cookbook is often a dream of the avid home cook. And why not? Recipes are a treasure trove of experience, history, and love all rolled into one. Start ... Read more »