This “Making Pasta” page covers the manufacturing process of pasta production. For a step by step guide (with pictures) of HOW TO MAKE PASTA, click here!
Manufacturing pasta is a process that has been perfected since the beginning of the 12th Century and long before Marco Polo stuffed a noodle in his mouth. Read all about the fine art of pasta making here! Across the world different cultures are making some form of pasta or noodle. In Japan it's the "Udon", in China "Mein", Poland it's the "pierogi" and Germany they love "spaetzel". In Italy it’s what has dominated the foodie culture as Italian food. Pasta!
Many people believe that Marco Polo was responsible for bringing this 12th century's old cuisine to Italy but you'd be surprised to hear what the real truth is. Read it in the History of Pasta
section of this site.
The industrial aspect of making pasta began in Naples long before the 12th century and before Marco Polo's excursion. Naples, because of it's abundance and what was and is to this day considered the best quality of durum wheat took to industrially producing pasta as second nature.
Pasta, made from a mixture of water and semolina flour, a coarse-ground flour from the heart of durum wheat, is amber-colored, high in protein and lower in starch then all purpose flour. It is easily digested and grown specifically for the manufacturing of pasta.
Farina, rougher granulation's of other high-quality hard wheat can also be used for making pasta. But both flours are enriched with B-vitamins and iron before they are shipped to pasta plants.
The Manufacturing Process of Making Pasta:
Mixing and Kneading
1. The semolina is stored in giant silos that can hold up to 150,000 pounds (68,100 kg). Pipes move the flour to a mixing machine equipped with rotating blades. Warm water is also piped into the mixing machine. The mixture is kneaded to a paste consistency.
Flavoring and Coloring Pasta
2. Eggs are added to the mixture if the product is an egg noodle. If pasta is to be a flavored variety, vegetable juices are added here. A tomato or beet mixture is added for red pasta, spinach for green pasta, carrots for orange pasta or squid ink (a favorite in Italy) for black pasta. Herbs and spices can also be folded in for additional flavoring.
Rolling Process of Making Pasta
3. The mixture moves to the lamination process where it is pressed into sheets by large cylinders. A vacuum mixer-machine further flattens the dough while pressing air bubbles and excess water from the dough to reach the optimum water content of 12%.
Pasteurization Process of Making Pasta
4. The roll of dough moves through a steamer, which heats the dough to 220°F (104°C) in order to kill any existing bacteria.
Cutting Process of Making Pasta
5. Depending on the pasta shape to be produced, the dough is either cut or pushed through dies. Ribbon and string-style pasta—such as fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, and capellini (angel hair pasta) are cut by rotating blades.
Making pasta into a tubular shape or shell shaped pasta such as rigatoni, ziti, elbow pasta, macaroni, and fusilli, the dough is fed into an extruder which then pushes it through metal dies. The size and shape of the holes in the die determine the type of pasta.
Making pasta into vermicelli, spaghetti, capellini and all long pastas, the pasta dough is pushed through holes between 0.8-0.5 mm in diameter. The cutting machine then cuts the pasta into lengths of 10 to 13 inches (250 mm) and twists it into curls or left straight.
Tortellini (filled pasta) are made on a separate machine. The machine cuts small circles from a roll of dough. A bucket of ricotta cheese or filling mixture drops a pre-measured amount of filling onto the circle of dough. The dough is then folded over and the two ends are joined to form a circle. This is referred to as a tuck and fold machine.
Making pasta into ravioli (filled pasta squares), pre-measured quantities of cheese or filling are dropped by machine at pre-measured intervals on a sheet of pasta. Another sheet of pasta is placed over this sheet as it moves along a conveyer belt. The two layers then pass under a cutting machine that perforates the pasta into pre-measured squares.
Dies: The inside surface of the die also influences the product appearance. Until recently, most dies were made of bronze, which was relatively soft and required repair or periodic replacement but produced a better quality pasta texture with a porous exterior. Recently, dies have been fitted with the extruding surface of the die with Teflon® inserts to extend the life of the dies but producing a glossier less textured and less favorable pasta.
6. The pasta is placed in a drying tank in which heat, moisture, and drying time are strictly regulated. The drying period differs for the various types of pasta.
It can range from three hours for elbow macaroni and egg noodles to as much as 12 hours for spaghetti. The drying time is critical because if the pasta is dried too quickly it will break and if it is dried too slowly, the chance for spoilage increases. The oxygen level in the tank is also regulated, and lab technicians test frequently for salmonella and other bacteria.
Careful handling of the pasta during the drying period is also crucial. Spaghetti is the most fragile of the noodles and is therefore hung high above the floor.
7. Fresh pasta is folded in pre-measured amounts into clear plastic containers. As the containers move along a conveyer belt, a plastic sheet covers each container and is sealed with a hot press. At the same time, a small tube sucks the air of the container and replaces it with a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to prolong the product's shelf-life.
Labels listing the type of noodle, nutritional facts, cooking instructions, and expiration date are attached to the top of the containers.
Dried pasta is loaded, either manually or by machine, into stainless steel buckets which move along a conveyer belt to the appropriate packaging station. The pasta is measured by machine into pre-printed boxes, which also list the type of noodle, ingredients, preparation, and expiration date. Again, careful handling is important.
For example, because lasagna noodles are particularly fragile, workers place them on metal slides that ease the pasta into boxes. The boxes are then sealed by machine. Workers at the floor-level stations monitor the packaging process. The mechanism allows for workers to package the pasta manually if necessary.
8. The manufacturing of pasta is subject to strict federal regulations for food production. Federal inspectors schedule regular visits to insure that the company is adhering to government laws.
In addition, each company sets its own standards for quality, some of which are set in practice before the pasta reaches the plant.
Lab technicians test the semolina flour for color, texture, and purity before it is removed from rail cars. Protein and moisture content are measured and monitored on sophisticated quality control computer software.
In the plant, technicians constantly test the pasta for elasticity, texture, taste, and tolerance to overcooking. Plant workers are required to wear helmets and plastic gloves. Mixing machines are scrupulously cleaned after each batch of pasta passes through them. The drying process is strictly monitored to guard against spoilage.
Making Pasta Homemade:
The popularity of pasta has spread to the home-cooking arena. Pasta-rolling machines and pasta cookbooks are available at house-wares stores and in cooks' catalogs.
This homemade pasta recipe is similar to the industrial process with the exception that eggs are generally used in all home pasta recipes. Sometimes oil is added to the mixture, particularly if a lesser grade of flour is used. I always suggest using either a blend of semolina flour of all semolina flour.
The flour is measured out onto a wooden or marble surface and formed into a mound with a well in the center. Eggs, water, oil and any other desired ingredients are poured into the well and mixed lightly with a fork. Then, beginning from the outside of the mound, the flour is incorporated into the center.
The dough is kneaded for approximately five minutes until a smooth, elastic ball is achieved. Rolling the dough into sheets is done with a long Italian-style rolling pin or with a rolling machine. Most rolling machines have attachments for cutting the dough into various forms of pasta such as spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagna, or ravioli.
The dough can also be cut by hand using a sharp knife or rolling blade. Specially marked rolling pins that imprint squares on the dough or ravioli trays can be used for making stuffed pasta. Extrusion machines for making tube-style pasta such as rigatoni or fussily can also be purchased for home use.
The Future of Making Pasta:
Pasta continues to increase in popularity. The National Pasta Foods Association estimates that the average American will eat more than 29 pounds (13 kg) of pasta each year by the turn of the century.
Highly rated for its nutritional value, pasta is an ideal meal for people who are paying more attention to their dietary intake by eating healthy Italian pasta.
In addition, people are finding less time to prepare meals, and a quick and easy pasta recipe always comes in handy.
Vivere, Amare, Ridere e Mangiare Bene
Live, Love, Laugh and Eat Well!
Do you have a pasta recipe to share? Just like this making pasta page I will post it right here on this site for a whole page dedicated to your Italian pasta recipe.
HOW TO MAKE PASTA
Books and references
Bugialli, Guiliano. Bugialli on Pasta. Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. A History of Food. (Translated from the French by Anthea Bell). Blackwell Publishers, 1992.
Bannon, Lisa. "Italians Do Still Eat Oodles of Noodles, But Trend Is Limp." Wall Street Journal, May 10, 1994, p. Al.
"What Is Pasta?" Borden, Inc., 1994.
"Custom-Manufactured Pasta." Food Engineering, January 1991, p. 71.
Giese, James. "Pasta: New Twists on an Old Product." Food Technology, February 1992, p. 118-26.
McMath, Robert. "Pasta's New World Order." Adweek's Marketing Week, November 25, 1991, p. 26
— Mary F. McNulty
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