In New Zealand there is one large company that makes most of the pasta that you see on your supermarket shelves. There are also many smaller companies making “fresh” pasta and selling it either loose by the kilogram or vacuum packed.
Methods used to make pasta
Wheat is milled into semolina and coarsely ground flour then delivered to the pasta factory (called pastificio in Italy) where it is checked for impurities and stored in silos.
The coarsely ground flour and semolina are gently mixed with water to form a stiff paste perfect for shaping. This is usually done in large tubs, the last of which is under vacuum which contributes to the amber colour of the pasta. Egg may also be added for noodle mix – usually two eggs for every 454g of pasta.
Pasta dough then moves into pressing machines where mixing, kneading and blending continues. When the dough is just right it is pressed through metal plates with holes in them, which are called die plates. The shape of the holes in the die plate decides the shape of the pasta.
A process where dough is extruded through various different shapes of nozzles to form the type of pasta required is also used overseas.
Two types of extruding nozzles, teflon and bronze, can be used. Teflon nozzles give the pasta a smooth, translucent surface, whereas the bronze one gives the pasta a rough, opaque surface. Factories using teflon nozzles can produce far more pasta in a shorter time than those using the bronze ones, because the dough passes through teflon much more quickly than it does through bronze.
One of the oldest pasta factories in Naples, Voiello, still uses the old-fashioned bronze variety and although the slower production raises the price, the factory owners say that real pasta lovers are willing to pay a little more to get perfect pasta.
From here the type of pasta being made determines the rest of the process. To make long goods such as spaghetti, the die plate or extrusion nozzles have round holes. As the pasta moves through the holes it forms long strands. They hang down to form a curtain. A rod moves behind the strands. At the die plate the spaghetti is cut with a sharp blade.
To make short goods (such as macaroni) there are a huge variety of die plates. The tube shape of macaroni comes from a hole with a pin in the centre. For alphabet macaroni the holes are shaped into letters. As the pasta moves out of the die plate it is cut by a rotating knife. The short pasta falls over a steam heated vibrator and moves into the drying line.
To make noodles, lasagne and kluski, the pasta is pressed through special die shapes and cut to the required length.
A combination of drying processes can be used. The pasta is first pre-dried at very high temperatures, rested (or cured), and then dried in a final dryer just enough to keep the moisture it needs.
Before pasta is packaged it is carefully examined and some of it is tested by cooking to ensure that everything is perfect. Good pasta should not become soft or slimy while cooking and should hold its perfectly cooked state, al dente, for up to ten minutes, once drained, before being classed as ‘overcooked’. After testing it is then weighed and, if necessary, cut.
Pasta is then sent to other food manufacturers for use in noodle soups, canned spaghetti and fry-pan dinners. The rest is packaged and sent to stores and supermarkets for sale.
Pasta has a shelf life of two years, provided it is stored in a cool, dry place away from other products which could contaminate it.