Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pasta competition, or Bronze, Teflon, and Bullets: the industrial production of pasta

I ran across a spaghetti tasting article in the L.A. Times (hat tip to slashfood). They tasted 16 pastas (four of which I sell and extol the virtues of) and found one clear (unanimous) winner, one clear second-place, and then lots of narrower victories. The winner was Latini's spaghetti (not their Senatore Cappelli variety) and second place was Rustichella d'Abruzzo. From the description of the way they tasted, they showed a lot of respect for both the food and the tasting process. This led me on a quest to find some of the perfect sites to explain why the tasters would have such different experiences with spaghetti, which then led me chasing other feral geese.

I'll bet more people in the CSI-rich United States could explain to me why a bullet has markings left on it from the barrel of a gun than could explain to me why some spaghetti is rich with texture and some are smooth as teflon:

As all manufactured items have inevitable variations, it is often possible for a forensic firearms examiner to match a bullet or cartridge case to a particular firearm based on these variations. Most often these are due to marks left by a machining process, which can leave shallow impressions in the metal which are rarely completely polished out. Wear due to use will also cause each firearm to aqcuire distinct characteristics over time, though this same process will also alter the "fingerprint" of the firearm.

These same variations in the manufacturing process of bronze dies used to make pasta, and the fact that bronze is never perfectly smooth, leave marks on pasta dough as it is pushed through a die. Bronze dies wear over time and slow the process down, so teflon dies have been replacing bronze for most industrial pasta makers. Teflon dies leave pasta very smooth, however; the pasta won't pick up as much sauce and be a conduit for as much flavor.

My quest for information on dies led me to gold:

The most complete website on the industrial production of pasta I've ever seen
(woo hoo!)

A site on industrial production which is more concise but unfortunately falls into the mistaken belief that "the total drying time can take from six to 24 hours depending on the drying technology used"--but it also lists production methods for lots of foods, so I want to remember it as a starting point for other searches I might have.

And, of course, Zingerman's "Pasta: Everything you wanted to know and some things you didn't"

Go explore.