flavor, audacity, wheat and tradition
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flavor, audacity, wheat and tradition
A small medieval village perched atop a hill, among vineyard-clad hills, olive tree groves and verdant meadows. Travelling along the silent country roads in the surroundings of Pisa, which is just 30 km away, one can easily spot charming little Lari. Discerning travellers may well decide to drive up the hill, for a taste of the slow-paced cobblestone-paved atmosphere, and a glimpse of the ancient alluring castle. Some might be attracted by the town’s rich history and Etruscan origins. Or wish to learn more, perhaps, about its traditional heritage, wheat-colored character and wonderfully unique fragrance.
Yes, fragrance, flavor, wheat and tradition. Because this tiny Tuscan gem is the birthplace of one of Italy’s most exquisite artisan-made pastas. Pastificio Famiglia Martelli, i.e. the Martelli Family Pasta Factory, has been producing blue ribbon handcrafted pasta for over 90 years.
The family story is moving, and iconic. It all started back in 1926, when Guido and Gastone Martelli, fatherless brothers, inherited the pasta factory which they had worked in for years. Alongside Beppina and Dina, their unwavering wives, Guido and Gastone worked through the years and survived WWII’s perils and hardships. With their children they made it to 1967, when a new law established mandatory sealing of pasta in individual packages. Italian pasta makers, who habitually sold loose pasta to their clients, faced a dramatic dilemma: go for large-scale industry or shut the factory door.
Alas, many did close up, but not the Martellis. Boldly stubborn and Tuscan at heart, they chose to challenge the market making small quantities of excellent, handcrafted pasta. The new generation, Mario and Dino with their wives, stood proud through the ‘70s, braving the new market with their artisan identity, just as medieval Lari had faced its invaders. Then Giorgio Onesti, one of Italy’s most enlightened connoisseurs of culinary specialties, came along, and spread the word about Pastificio Famiglia Martelli throughout Italy.
The factory itself is a sight to admire: a pale yellow period building which rises alongside the castle, in the heart of medieval Lari. Within, a smiling team of 8 employees – all members of the Martelli family – lovingly mix, knead and package durum wheat semolina pasta in compliance with tradition, entirely by hand.
“Eat less, eat better” is the Martelli Family motto, because as Dino and Mario Martelli love to explain, the secret behind making superior quality pasta is making it in small quantities.
In point of fact, it takes the Martelli Family Factory a whole year to produce the quantity an industrial pasta factory plant yields in five hours!
Quality, tradition, long-practiced firsthand expertise, and unwavering commitment to producing only truly excellent pasta is what the Martellis are about.
The result proves them right: wonderfully textured, easy-to-digest full-flavored pasta which retains its firmness once cooked, and blends superbly with sauce.
So, what’s the formula? Is artisan-made dried pasta really much more palatable, tastier and healthier than mass-produced commercial pasta made by larger factories? And, if so, why?
Apart from the obvious charisma all niche products are endowed with, the unique trait of Famiglia Martelli’s pasta is that it is entirely handcrafted using slow traditional techniques, bronze dies and low temperatures. Commercial pasta, on the other hand, is made using lets-make-it-quick-and-sweet techniques (including Teflon dies, hot water and hot air) to yield competitive quantities in a shorter time frame.
Working slowly, and allowing for the dough to take its time, is the key to making appetizing richly flavored pasta. Hot water stresses the dough, and hot air breaks up both the nutrients and the aromas. Instead, an easy, natural pace enhances the flavor, makes the pasta easier to digest, and guarantees it will blend splendidly with sauces and seasonings.
Naturally all stems from the primary ingredient: wheat. Devoted to promoting and supporting Italian tradition and local agriculture, Pastificio Famiglia Martelli uses only the finest Tuscan durum wheat semolina flour traditionally ground by the Molino Borgioli mill.
Just as in ancient times, the semolina flour is delivered to the ground floor of the factory. Here, the skilled hands of dedicated pasta workers mix it carefully with cold water, and slowly hand-knead it into dough. Their attentive glance and artistry guarantee a perfect balance between the ingredients, and ensure the stability and harmony of the gluten and carbohydrate content.
The dough is then drawn smoothly and softly through a bronze die, a fabulous traditional method which makes the pasta rough-textured and porous and keeps its nutrients safe. Each of the six shapes of pasta the Martelli Family crafts has its own exclusive die. And so, slowly, spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghettoni, maccheroni, penne and fusilli are rolled out, bronze-drawn, ready to be dried.
Needless to say, the Pastificio Famiglia Martelli’s drying process follows tradition. Temperatures kept beneath 36° C, humidity levels and ventilation constantly monitored, and the mastri pastai, the expert pasta masters, with their keen eyes on the pasta, checking its progress. No computers, no high-tech machinery, only masterful years-old expertise ready to promptly assess humidity and revise temperatures when it rains, shines or freezes outside. The Famiglia Martelli pasta rests calmly, for a long time, and is then reverently hand packaged in its signature pale yellow package.
La pasta is now ready for the shelves of the world’s best delis, and, eventually, our dining room tables.
Enjoying a plate of pasta masterfully handmade in ancient Lari by the Martelli Family members is a flavorful wholesome experience, and a privilege. The privilege of tasting genuine Italian tradition, discovering the roots of its excellence and valiant endurance of its women and men.