Pasta: an Italian product
The story of pasta is a typically Italian story in the fullest sense of the expression, and one which finds a place of special adhesion in Naples and Campania – but especially in the Sorrentine Peninsula, in the case of Gragnano pasta. It is an Italian story because it spread across the whole peninsula, but also because it brings together traditions and origins that come from various cultures and worlds (the Italy of culture, and therefore the Italy of the kitchen, is capable of integrating thousands of traditions and making them true and original). And finally, it is Italian because within one common product a thousand regional and local variations have arisen, which make our country the unicum that it is.
The origins of pasta
Pasta was born during the Medieval era from various traditions, some of them original: pasta understood as dough – lasagne – was already known during Roman times; the Arabs from Sicily then brought to the whole of Italy the elongated shape – vermicelli, tagliatelle – which was commercialised dry, to guarantee a longer life. Then, during the Medieval era, pasta also assumed a shorter shape, giving life to the family of maccheroni that have their variations in every corner of Italy. During this period, pasta was consumed with butter and often – in rich kitchens – with the addition of spices that were the primary enrichment of noble kitchens until the Renaissance.
Thus, dried pasta gradually assumed the character of a stable food in Italy, so much so that for centuries macaroni was a derogatory nickname used by foreigners for Italians.
Pasta and tomatoes in Naples and Gragnano
But it was during the 1800s, however, that pasta found its full legitimation and took root in Naples and Campania, and it would be another ingredient with far-off origins – the American tomato – that would give it its current characterisation. In this environment, the city of Gragnano became the capital of pasta. From the 15th century, thanks to the water coming from Monte Faito, mills and pasta makers emerged in this area, but on 12th July 1845, Ferdinand II of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies, granted the privilege of supplying the court with all long varieties of pasta to the manufacturers of Gragnano. This is where the best lands are, thanks to its microclimate with sun, wind and the perfect humidity that comes from the sea.
The pasta makers of Gragnano increased to more than one hundred in number, and produced more than one thousand quintals of pasta every day. The main street, running through the city, became a kind of natural dryer for the pasta, as can be seen from some old photographs.
Even today, in Gragnano pasta is a product of excellence. A promotion consortium exists, which even obtained the protected denomination IGP in 2013.