“If you give a man pasta,” as the proverb says, “you’ll feed him for a day. If you teach a man how to buy pasta, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”
Okay… Maybe I remembered it wrong. But before you and I even get to talk about the best Italian pasta brands, let’s take a minute or two to look at what it is that sets their pasta so much apart from the cheap stuff at the store in the first place.
The secret to great pasta, you see, starts much earlier than your trip to the grocery store: it goes as far back as the crops that the flour used in the pasta dough was milled from.
The staple pasta varieties carried by grocery stores are made with just two ingredients—flour and water—and their quality is imperative to the characteristics of the final product. The finer the flour and the sweeter the water, the tastier the pasta.
Traditionally, Italian pasta is made from semolina flour, a golden coarse flour with 13% gluten content produced by milling durum wheat.
Durum wheat, also known as “pasta wheat” or “macaroni wheat,” is the hardest of all wheat varieties. Planted in spring and harvested in fall, it grows in the hot summers and on the dry lands along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Compared to all-purpose flour, semolina has a higher gluten content, which makes it more elastic. With their golden color and rough surface, pasta shapes made from semolina flour are more appealing to the eye. They’re also more aromatic and flavorful.
Though bread flour and semolina flour have the same gluten content, dough made with semolina rises less and comes out chewier to the bite when cooked, which is what makes semolina the better choice of the two for making pasta.
As you can expect, the traditions of Italian pasta-making don’t end here.
When it comes to boxed pasta, the production process is equally as important as the type of flour. The best boxed pasta is extruded through bronze dies and slow-dried to perfection.
Dried pasta is made in factories where commercial machines mix flour and water into a dough. In a process called “extrusion,” these machines push out the dough through metal plates with holes called “dies.” Every die produces a different pasta variety.
These metal plates are coated with one of two materials: bronze or Teflon. Bronze is the more traditional coating for pasta dies, and it’s generally said to make better pasta. However, it’s also more expensive to buy and care for—which is why most pasta factories use Teflon-coated dies.
Commercially made pasta is often called “extruded pasta.” Pasta produced by bronze dies is known as “bronze die pasta” or “bronze-cut pasta” (and pasta produced by Teflon-coated dies follows the same naming logic).
Once extruded, the pasta shapes are dried. This, as you can probably imagine by now, is where the makers of cheap pasta cut corners, and those who adhere to tradition take their time.
Most pasta in the store is dried quickly and over high heat. This, according to food experts, destroys the natural aromas and flavors otherwise present in the flour and eats away at its nutritional value.
In contrast, the best pasta is slow-dried, at a level of humidity and a slightly changing temperature that mimic the conditions of the great Italian countryside. Slow-drying, as I explained in “Is More Expensive Pasta Better?,” yields pasta with a wheaty smell and earthy taste.
Table of Contents
- The Best Italian Pasta Brands
- Where Can I Buy Italian Pasta?
- In Conclusion
- What to Read Next
The Best Italian Pasta Brands
For those of you looking for the best Italian pasta brands that cut their pasta in bronze dies instead of cutting corners, here’s my list.
In 1877, Pietro Barilla Sr. opened a bakery in Parma, a city in Italy’s northern region of Emilia Romagna. Today, Barilla Group is still a family business, led by his great-grandsons Guido, Luca, and Paolo who, together with their one sister, own 85% of the company.
Of all the brands on my list, you’ll find that Barilla’s pasta is the easiest to buy. Without exaggerating, it’s carried by virtually every store, from the mom-and-pop store near the gas station to the Costco on the edge of town.
That can be hard to believe at first, especially if you’ve never wandered intentionally through the pasta aisle at the grocery store. It’s also easy to understand when you consider that, in its 144-year history, Barilla has grown from a small bakery to the biggest pasta maker in the world.
Barilla makes 45% of the commercially-dried pasta in Italy and 35% of the pasta eaten in the US, international weekly newspaper The Economist reports.
The Barilla family has kept the tradition well through four generations. At this scale, it’s almost impossible to make consistently-good pasta. Yet their boxed pasta shapes are some of the best you could find on the shelves.
In total, Barilla has 77 pasta varieties across 9 pasta ranges. From the “Classic Blue Box” spaghetti we all grew up eating to the hip chickpea casarecce, there’s a shape and form for every taste.
My favorite pasta range is Barilla’s signature “Collezione,” which consists of 8 artisanal pasta shapes made from 100% semolina flour and extruded through bronze dies.
My Barilla Pick
Try the Three Cheese Tortellini and you’ll be able to tell the difference from the first bite.
They’re ideal for Pasta in Brodo, a two-ingredient soup made by cooking tortellini in broth—a recipe from Emilia Romagna, the home-region of Barilla.
Best value for the money
Another centenarian family-owned business on my list, De Cecco was founded in 1886 when Nicola and his brother Filippo De Cecco founded the “Mill and Pasta Factory of the De Cecco Brothers.”
The two brothers set out to mill the highest-quality flour and make the finest pasta in the region. They clearly did, as 135 years after they opened the small factory in the commune of Fara San Martino in Italy’s Abruzzo region, De Cecco has grown into the third-largest pasta maker in the world (after Barilla and Nestle).
De Cecco has a massive selection of 233 pasta varieties across 7 pasta ranges (“Durum Wheat Pasta,” “Egg Pasta,” “Gluten-Free,” “Pasta Specialities,” “7-Grain,” “Wholegrain,” and “Organic”).
Its classic “Durum Wheat Pasta” consists of 111 classic and 23 specialty shapes, all of which are made from 100% semolina flour and bronze-cut.
Because De Cecco goes the extra mile and extrudes all of its pasta through bronze dies, which produces shapes with a golden color and rough surface for the sauce to cling to, I’d recommend cooking with De Cecco pasta on any day.
Whenever I’m shopping for long and flat noodles at the store, I usually end up buying something from De Cecco’s “Egg Pasta” range. On top of everything I love about bronze-cut semolina pasta, the shapes in this range are made with eggs from free-range hens.
My De Cecco Pick
Try the Egg Pappardelle no. 101 and you’ll instantly get what I’m talking about.
The moment you add these noodles to a pot of boiling generously salted water, the earthy aroma of durum wheat fills the air in your kitchen. The free-range eggs in the noodles make them luxurious to the taste. And they pair equally well with cheese and tomato sauces.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try using De Cecco’s Egg Pappardelle no. 101 noodles for preparing the most decadent Pappardelle con Cacio e Pepe you’ve ever eaten.
Most appetizing texture
When Domenico Ferro fled Frattamaggiore and left his bakery with 9 ovens and 9 street carts behind, he had made a choice: pay protection money to the local mafia and keep your business afloat, or abandon your hometown and keep your integrity.
Domenico moved to Molise, a mountainous region in south-central Italy with a stretch of coastline on the Adriatic Sea, where the people are known for making good food and respecting the law. A few years later in 1910, he founded his first flour mill.
A hard worker with pride in his craft who ran his business with passion and honesty, Domenico ran a mill that made some of the finest flour in the region. He passed on the family business to his son, Guiseppe Ferro.
Guiseppe led the family business through World War II and the post-war economic recovery of Italy. The Ferro mill was destroyed by a bombing attack in 1943. Guiseppe didn’t give up and, after a few years, bought used machines from a decommissioned mill to restart production.
In 1972, his sons Domenico and Vincenzo took over the flour mill. They established the company Fratelli Ferro – Semolerie Molisane S.r.l. and moved the mill to the commune of Ripalimosani, where they built a modern factory capable of producing 220 tons of flour a day.
In a parallel storyline that will sooner or later converge with that of the Ferro family, the Carlone family founded an artisanal pasta shop in the commune of Campobasso, Molise in 1912.
The Carlone’s pasta, called La Molisana, which translates literally as “from Molise,” grew popular with the locals and soon received national recognition. In 1927, La Molisana was awarded the first prize in the Gran Palma d’Onore competition and won a gold medal “for the production of excellent pasta.”
Throughout the 20th century, La Molisana grew—domestically and internationally.
It sponsored the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and, in 1994, came up with an iconic television ad featuring Italian actor Nino Manfredi. “The doctor has banned me from coffee…,” Manfredi said in the ad. “He said it is bad for the capillaries. Besides, I’ve always preferred pasta. And the dietician agrees with me.”
La Molisana spiraled into bankruptcy in 2004 and, for several years, the business was in the hands of a custodian. It stagnated until the year 2011 when the fourth generation of Ferro’s decided to expand their flour milling business and purchase the staple Italian pasta brand.
Today, La Molisana is owned by the Ferro family. Since they also own one of Italy’s best and longest-standing flour mills, they make some of the finest and highest-quality pasta sold on the shelves of stores internationally.
La Molisana makes 9 pasta ranges (The Classiche, The Integrali, The Speciali, The Organic, The Sfiziose, The Tricolore, The Gluten-Free, The Extra di Lusso, and The Giuseppe Ferro).
My La Molisana Pick
My favorite is the Spaghetti alla Chitarra no. 1, a square spaghetti variety from the Abruzzo region bordering Molise.
La Molisana makes this pasta shape with durum wheat semolina and eggs, and extrudes it through bronze dies.
Use La Molisana’s spaghetti alla chitarra to cook up a quick and light dish of Pasta al Pomodoro prepared with fresh or canned tomato sauce. The sauce will cling perfectly to the noodles, turning every bit into nothing short of an explosion of taste.
Authentic, regional, locally sourced
Only one brand in the world can claim that it’s been making pasta since 1789, and that’s Pasta Garofalo.
Pasta Garofalo is a pasta brand, owned by Pastificio Lucio Garofalo S.p.A., that makes bronze-cut noodles from 100% durum wheat semolina flour in its factory in the town of Gragnano, Italy. It’s one of the few dried pasta products that carry a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) seal from the European Union.
More than 230 years ago, by Royal Decree, Michele Garofalo obtained an official license for the production and sale of “well-made pasta” in Gragnano, a small town on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast in Italy’s Campania region.
Gragnano has centuries of pasta-making tradition and is often called the birthplace of pasta in Italy. Located on a hilltop between Mt. Lattari and the Amalfi Coast, the climate conditions in Gragnano and its surrounding area are considered to be ideal for air-drying pasta noodles.
The wind, humidity, and sun, along with the presence of natural spring water, turned into the undisputed choice for producing some of Italy’s finest pasta. Since the 16th century, Gragnano has had flour mills, pasta factories, and artisanal pasta-making traditions celebrated by Italian poets and historians.
Michele Garofalo’s pasta factory soon turned into one of the most well-known and fastest-growing businesses in Gragnano. The company built two plants in the town’s center: one specialized in the production of long pasta cuts, like lasagne, fettuccine, and tagliatelle; the other in short pasta cuts, like rigatoni, fagioli, and ziti.
The modern company Pastificio Lucio Garofalo S.p.A. behind the Pasta Garofalo brand was established in 1935.
In 1980, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 took place in Italy, damaging the buildings of the historic pasta factory in the center of Gragnano. By 1987, the company had built a new factory in the industrial area just out of town and abandoned the old one.
Today, Pasta Garofalo makes one of the few dried pasta recognized by the European Union with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) seal. The PGI seal is a quality scheme that recognizes the relationship between a given product and its place of origin.
In the case of Pasta Garofalo’s pasta products, the dough must be produced in the municipality of Gragnano, using semolina flour with 13% protein content and water from local aquifers. The pasta must be produced using bronze dies, air-dried for 24 hours, then packaged on-site.
My Pasta Garofalo Pick
Slow-dried, highly flavorful
My next favorite is Rustichella d’Abruzzo.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo is an Italian pasta brand owned by Rustichella d’Abruzzo S.p.A., a family-run company to this day, that makes traditional bronze-cut, slow-dried pasta products.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo’s history dates back to 1924 when Gaetano Sergiacomo, grandfather of the company’s current owners, decided to part ways with his family’s flour milling business. He opened up a pasta factory, called Pastificio Gaetano Sergiacomo, in Penne, a small town (population 12,000) in the province of Pescara in Italy’s Abruzzo region.
Thanks to his background in milling, Gaetano was able to select and source some of the best durum-wheat semolina flour in the region. His factory’s pasta products quickly grew popular with the locals, then turned into a favorite of professional chefs and home cooks throughout Italy.
In 1981, Piero Peduzzi, father of the company’s current owners, set out to produce whole-wheat pasta. Unlike other pasta producers at the time, he did this using the traditional bronze dies used for making semolina pasta, so that the noodles would have a rougher, more porous surface that allowed them to hold on better to the sauce.
In 1989, Gianluigi and Maria Stefania Peduzzi took over their family’s business from their parents—and continue to run it to this day. The siblings built an olive oil mill in the hills of the Vestina area and a more modern pasta factory in Moscufo, a nearby town just 18 kilometers (11 miles) away from the company’s first factory in Penne.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo’s pasta tastes so good because the company continues to select the finest semolina flour to this day. The high protein content of the flour, combined, the local spring water to make the dough, and the slow-drying process that takes as much as 40-50 hours, give Rustichella d’Abruzzo products their unique quality, texture, aroma, and taste.
My Rustichella d’Abruzzo Pick
Unique taste unlike any other
Last but not least comes a pasta whose taste you will never mistake for anything else.
Pastificio Morelli is an Italian pasta brand owned by 5-th generation family-run pasta company Pastificio Morelli 1860 Srl.
The factory is located in the municipality of San Romano in Italy’s Tuscany region and the slogan of the brand is “our pasta is something else.” And that’s for a good reason. When you taste Pastificio Morelli pasta for the first time, you’ll instantly notice a taste difference from any other noodles you’ve had.
Morelli’s secret is an ingredient that’s not found in most types of pasta: the wheat germ. The wheat germ is the heart of the durum wheat grain that semolina flour is made from. It’s rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and plant protein.
When semolina flour is milled from durum wheat, the germ is removed. The germ contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fats, which tend to oxidize and turn rancid with storage. Removing it gives the flour a longer shelf life, but also takes away some of the earthy aroma, wheaty flavor, and many nutrients.
Pasitificio Morelli makes its pasta by re-incorporating the germ into the flour before they make the dough. When you cook with this pasta, it releases an intense wheat perfume into the air of your kitchen and colors your pasta water slightly in green because of the presence of the fresh wheat germ.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you try it. It might as well turn into one of the most favorite (or dare I say THE most favorite) pasta brands. For the same reason, Pasitificio Morelli’s products are highly popular with pasta chefs and restaurateurs.
My Pastificio Morelli Pick
Where Can I Buy Italian Pasta?
Though the easiest way to stock up on your favorite boxed pasta is on the Internet, Italian delis, well-stocked grocery stores, and supermarket chains tend to carry most of the best-known Italian pasta brands.
Look for Italy-imported pasta in the pantry departments of Walmart, Target, Publix, Kroger, Whole Foods, and Costco. Generally speaking, you’ll find less of them in dollar stores (except for Barilla and De Cecco, which can be found almost everywhere).
This concludes my list of the best Italian pasta brands in the store.
Use the high-quality noodles made by them to cook simple, authentic, and traditional Italian pasta dishes like Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, and Tomato and Anchovy Pasta. They’re ideal for any recipe with few ingredients where the taste of the semolina pasta can stand out.
Which brand and pasta variety did you end up buying? How did you home-cooked pasta turn out? Share your experience with me—and the rest of this post’s readers—by leaving a comment below.
What to Read Next
Now that you know which dried pasta to buy, check out the science-backed techniques that I’ve learned from watching Italian chefs prepare it in “The Science of Cooking the Perfect Pasta.”