Back to basics
People who grow wheat, harvest, and transform it in pasta. It sounds like a tale of long ago. And yet, somewhere tucked away in the mighty Sicilian landscape, these people actually exist. With care and love they follow the whole process.
A feudo in the middle of nowhere
Driving to the Feudo Mondello stands high in my personal top ten of things to do. Leaving the city, driving along the motorway, passing by sleeping villages. After the villages come the extended rows of vine, sloping up and down the hills. Once left the motorway and a rusty road sign it is just nature till reaching the Feudo. Through a patchwork of cultivated land and rocky hills. Following a road that seems to lead to nowhere. This is the land where the Greek gods frolicked, where nature reigns and men appreciate. Every time I drive under this ‘bronze sky’ (as the Greek defined the color blue) the idea of time traveling wells up.
No pain no gain
Set in the Sicilian inland, this farm stretches out over almost 700 acres. The Agosta family mainly grows durum wheat. And following the antique rotating system they also plant lentils, chickpeas and fava beans. This allows them to fertilize the land without having to fall back on chemical compounds. Nature does appreciate, we all do. As growing wheat ain’t hard enough, they decided to transform it in pasta. Ready for an understatement? A courageous choice.
Pasta Feudo Mondello
There is no lack of pasta in Italy. An average supermarket dedicates a whole corridor to this product. And although brands and forms differentiate, most of this pasta is a mere imitation of what it used to be. At Feudo Mondello they produce following the antique recipe, using two products only: water and semolina. Paradoxically this antique recipe stands for avant garde pasta making. Bringing taste back to pasta, curing it from a creeping disease.
The taste of pasta
Although a fundamental question, very few people seem to ask it: what does pasta taste like? Not the seasoning or sauce, the boiled pasta. Very similar to bread, when pre-packed white loaves of bread pretended to be a fully member of the bread family (and not the artificially fed monster it actually was). This bread could at best be considered the wrapper of what it comes with. Pasta, real pasta, tastes like wheat, it tastes like immense generosity of nature.
The Sicilian kitchen stands out for simplicity. There is no superfluity. Things come as they are, perfectly balanced. No rich sauces, no bustling, no hiding. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. They use good olive oil, fresh and local products. You cannot take pasta out of that equation. Price cannot be a determining element, not on this level. Eating good pasta may cost you a little more, but remains absolutely affordable. Save on things that do not matter, not on health and taste.
Working with the wheat they grow and never over-stretching capacity, the production is limited. Yet another courageous choice. They can, for example, only slow dry a limit amount of pasta at the time. Increasing the temperature would save them time. And it is not doing that what distinguishes them from the other. Having a pack of pasta Feudo Mondello in your pantry is a source of happiness. And pride. Of having something very few other people have.