The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Martelli Pasta Visit

I wanted a family vacation in Tuscany that had little to do with wine. It’s a big, varied, and fascinating world out there (or so I’m told) and my wine obsession is the source of real myopia. But what else do I care to see? Football, but the Serie A season had barely begun and to suggest making a Fiorentina match part of our rare family excursion abroad seemed a misstep. So in lieu of cellar dwelling and vino sniffing, we visited the best pasta maker in the whole world.

The Martelli family’s small operation is conveniently based in Lari, a medieval hilltop castle village barely a spaghetti’s-length from the Pisa airport. The building is small, on a narrow street in the center of Lari. At first it’s hard to divine the source of this pasta’s greatness. They use two ingredients: Durum wheat flour (Italian and Canadian) and cold water. The machinery looks simple and I’d imagine you can buy it off-the-rack. The scale of Martelli is impressively small. They make one ton of pasta per day, and only do one shape per day, rotating through Spaghetti, Spaghettini, Penne, and Maccheroni di Toscana. They have no desire to expand. They do have a desire to make the best pasta possible, and their four-story factory is a temple devoted to a certain pace of work and life. Dino and Luca were the two pasta makers on duty for our visit. We looked at the bronze die as it efficiently cut the pasta (we were touring on a Maccheroni day). The die creates optimal texture for the adherence of sauce. Our hosts emphasized the necessity to make pasta in small batches, and to dry it slowly. As we climbed the stairs to Martelli’s second-story Penne/Maccheroni drying floor (hot) and then to the third-floor Spaghetti/Spaghettini drying rooms (inferno) it was hard to believe that industrial pasta makers opt for even hotter drying rooms, but they do. Martelli use a 40-to-50-hour slow-drying method (variance is caused by weather conditions) to create an evenly-dried pasta capable of optimal moisture absorption.

We left with kilo-bags of pasta, bartered for sundried Ethiopian coffee. The pasta was fantastic fuel for a week of exploring Tuscany. I’m ruined for most other pastas, and approach them with severe scepticism. Martelli clan, you’ve set the bar too high!


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