1. Have it hard
Good pasta is made from hard wheat. So-called semolina. The reason lays in high gluten content. Hence the elasticity. Milled soft wheat on the other hand is used for pastry.
The hardest of all wheats is durum. This is the ideal flour to produce pasta and couscous with. It is widely produced in the Mediterranean area.
2. Bronze cut
Polytetrafluoroethylene, aka teflon. The mixture of flour and water goes through a mold. Teflon molds are cheaper and easier to clean. They produce very smooth pasta.
Bronze molds are more expensive and harder to clean. But they produce a coarse, a more porous product. And sauce or condiment sticks better to a coarse surface.
3. The shape of pasta
The shape of pasta is important, especially in Italy. It’s often part of the recipe’s name. Farfalle al salmone, penne all’arrabbiata.
What pasta goes with what sauce? That is a million dollar question. Italians are pretty touchy when it comes to food. As long as you don’t have Italian guests, do as you please. And just for the record, avoid preparing Italian food for Italians.
4. The price you pay
You pay what you get. This adagio goes mainly for dirt cheap pasta. As stated above, the main ingredient is wheat. The molding process may increase the cost a little. As does packaging. But there’s no way around it: cheap versions comes from cheap wheat. Not exactly what you wish for.
What also increases the price is the way it is dried. Slow pasta costs more.
5. Slow dried pasta
Slow drying has costs and benefits. The bubbles that form inside will soak up sauce. Cooking it al dente is easier with the slow dried varieties.
In industrial processes time is money. So they leave the slow drying to artisans and small producers.
Try and see if you can spot the difference.