Monday, March 25, 2019
Food Legends


Gragnano’s pasta has a peculiar place within the “macaroni” Italian production. The Campanian city knew how to preserve its tradition betting on quality and cultural values

The birth

In 89 B.C., Lucius Cornelius Silla arrives in Stabia (now Castellammare) to subdue one of the many rebellions that took place during the social war. To escape to the consul, many rebels took shelter in the inland, where the Gens Grania used to live. There, they were dedicated to farming, and in particular to the cultivation of vine, olive trees, wheat and fruits.

This is how Gragnano born, favorite daughter of the Gulf of Naples and the Mount Faito, protected by the Saints Antonino and Catello, worshipper of Saint Michael the Archangel.

Gragnano: City of pasta by divine right and the King’s will

The story of Gragnano is the story of pasta. Or better, of Gragnano’S pasta, because pasta there is a whole with its producer.

The Gragnano pasta factories are mentioned for the first time at the end of 1500. At that time, in the picaresque Gragnano, pasta was still unknown. On the one hand, the aristocrats order and eat pasta inside their noble Neapolitan palaces; on the other hand, Lazaruses and Popolo minuto (poor workers), earn that delicacy by bedding and swindling, or most frequently just dream about it.

Two street urchins and a lazarus eating pasta in a maccheronaro. Picture by Giorgio Sommer (1834 – 1914)

The quality leap for Gragnano happens in 1800. With the introduction of the desiccation process, the macaroni become cheaper and the white art flourishes as well as the quality certification “Made in Real Casa”. On July 12 1845, the king of Naples Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies grants to the gragnanesi (inhabitants of Gragnano) the privilege to provide his court with their long pasta.

The city of Macaroni

In a Century of great romantic Ideas, Gragnano reopens the wheat mills of its valleys, and all the gragnanesi get involved in the production of that white gold. In the mid-1800’s, there are nearly one hundred pasta factories in the city and the 75% of the population work in the pasta process. The quantity of macaroni produced in the city is enormous: about 1000 quintals of pasta of different kinds per day.

Maccheronari. They appeared at the end of the 16th century and have been among the first Italians street food entrepreneurs

Gragnano is blessed by the weather, but the gragnanesi do their best to make it even better. In Gragnano, God Almighty balances wind, sun, water, and humidity as if he was an experienced pasta maker, but the small spaces of the village are not enough anymore. So, the people took the old Via Roma and turned it into a deep drying warehouse. Also Umberto I noticed the city of macaroni, and in 1885, the railway reached the city to allow pasta, bran, and wheat to travel on rails.

Gragnano, Via Roma after the nineteenth-century urbanistic intervention. To be noticed, the pasta drying.

The first producer of Slow Food in the world

The 20th century arrives futuristically fast. Marinetti couldn’t abolish pasta, but the Northern industry caused difficulties to the artisanal products made in Gragnano. Of the 100 producers of the 19th century, only a dozen will survive, those who were able to know intuitively that salvation means quality. Quality and union: in 1980 the Cooperative “Pastai Gragnanesi” (Pasta makers of Gragnano) saw the light, and in 2003, also the Consortium “Gragnano Città della Pasta”.

Other firms, like Garofalo, Gentile, Liguori… knew how to maintain an artisanal dimension even competing in the MD (the case of Garofalo), and in other cases, they remained attached to tradition by reviving it and fighting for sustainability.

A PGI pasta

In the pasta factories of Gragnano, the artisanal work is mandatory. The pasta has been the first of the world to get the mark of quality PGI, for the bronze-drawing process and the ingredients that have to be local: wheat and water. Moreover, the dessication should happen between 40° and 80° C, and the packaging needs to be done by hand in the 24 hours that follow the cooling.

To maintain a similar quality, the pasta producers of the city choose to pursue with the hand production and the old division of roles – a kneader, a cutter, a drainer, and the package maker.

Gragnanesi pasta makers, the so-called pasta drainers, while they roll out the pasta to let it dry

The kinds of pasta produced are more than 50, and even there, the link with tradition is strong. Paccheri, lasagne, taccozzette, fusilli, ferrazzuoli, calamari, trecce and Vesuvius’ trofie, all recovered from the bottom of a forgotten modernity.

The value that doesn’t consume

The Gragnano story is a story of territorial success, where a patrimony has not been squandered for the obstinacy of producers and the farsightedness of a few administrators.

It is a story, this one of Gragnano, that teaches how the slowness, the tradition, and the quality should not really care about industrialization, as the territory knows how to tell its story and its values across the centuries.

This is the story of Gragnano and of how it transformed a consumption object into a real cultural expression, a symbol of people as a whole. Nobody can eat Ethos with just some tomato sauce.


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This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Ambra Del Moro
My name is Ambra Del Moro, to be fair. I hold a master's degree in Modern Languages and for ten years I've been citizen of the world as I lived in Germany, United States, Belgium and Disneyland. For the moment it seems I found my place. In the joyful Foodiestrip Republic.