Who Wants Pasta Made In Iowa?

Tom Cardella

Pardon me, but I’m feeling betrayed. I just found out that Barilla pasta is not made in Italy. And that a good deal of the durham wheat that it’s made from comes from countries other than Italy. Barilla pasta is manufactured in Iowa and New York. This is a product that advertises itself as “Italy’s #1 selling brand of pasta.” Are you telling me that real Italians are buying American-made pasta from Iowa? That’s like claiming that the Swiss prefer HERSHEY’S chocolate. Give me a break!

For years, I’ve been complaining all these years when Fran has bought cheap American-made pastas such as San Giorgio and Ronzoni. “Buy Barilla,” I’d implore her. “It’s just as cheap and it’s made in Italy.” Except it’s not. In fact — according to Courthouse News Service (10/20/2022) — Barilla is being sued for misrepresenting itself.

To be candid, we stopped buying Barilla for awhile because of rumors that the company contributed to anti-gay causes. Then, when we heard that the company had become gay-friendly, we took Barilla off the “don’t buy” list. We abandoned Barilla for cheaper American-made pastas that were on sale at the time. A buck for a 1-pound box. It was easy to buy our loyalty.

According to a U.S. Magistrate, the two guys suing Barilla proved that they had suffered sufficient damage to justify a class action suit against the company. A moment of candor here: Did the Cardellas suffer economic injury by purchasing Barilla because they thought it was made in Italy? I can’t say we did. But is our trust worth nothing? We were not in the habit of buying premium-priced pasta unless it was on sale. Whenever we were willing to pay a bit more for premium-quality pasta, we bought De Cecco pasta. But that’s another story.

The writer of the Courthouse News article is Maria Dinzeo, a good Italian girl, I’m certain, who knows her pasta. I’ve never met her, but I’m biased. Maria (a name that sounds “just like music playing”) refers in the article to a similar lawsuit involving King’s Hawaiian rolls. a Los Angeles bakery. In that case, the packaging on the “Hawaiian” rolls featured a three-point crown that could be mistaken for a pineapple. The packaging reads “Est. 1950 Hilo, Hawaii.” The suit was denied because the judge felt that just because there was a pseudo-pineapple on the label and “Hawaii” appeared all over the packaging didn’t mean you should think the rolls were actually made in Hawaii. Confession: I thought King’s Hawaiian rolls were made in Hawaii. Next you’ll be telling me that KRAFT’s PHILADELPHIA brand cream cheese isn’t made here in Philly. It isn’t??

To be fair to Barilla, I’ll note that the company was founded in the 19th century in Parma, Italy. Chances are your ancestors bought Barilla when it was authentic Italian pasta. Parma, by the way, is where real prosciutto is made. But don’t get me started on the question of the Canadians trying to sell their prosciutto as authentic.

I’m amazed the two dudes suing BARILLA convinced the judge to make the case a class action suit. I don’t know whether you can get a piece of the pay-out — if there is one. I guess it’s according to how much BARILLA pasta you’ve purchased over the years, and whether you bought it because you thought it was made in Italy. (I don’t think I saved the empty boxes as proof of purchase). The box does have the Italian flag prominently displayed on it.

If you’re not a pasta aficionado, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between Italian-made pasta and pasta made in Iowa. Italian pasta is said to be thicker. The pasta tends to lend itself to being served more firm than American pasta or “al dente,” as it’s called. Italy claims its pasta is tastier because, according to Italian law, it must be made of 100% Italian durham wheat. Domestic pastas are not made under the same strict regulations as are their Italian counterparts. You will normally have to pay a bit of a higher price for the imported pasta. Note: If you’ve been serving pasta shaped like wagon wheels, you’re not eating Italian pastas. And you’re likely still watching reruns of Gunsmoke.

There are non-Italians who ask whether the shape of pasta affects the taste. The different shapes can affect how well the sauce clings to the pasta (the sauce should be called “gravy” unless you want to remain an outsider). So, yes, the shape may indirectly affect how the pasta dish tastes. I’d stick with the traditional forms of pasta such as spaghetti or linguine. It’s less confusing.

There is dry pasta and what we call “homemade.” If you do make your own pasta, why are you still reading this column? When I was growing up, my mother’s family insisted on calling freshly made pasta “homemade.” This despite the fact that no one in my mother’s family actually made the pasta. They purchased it on Ninth Street. I never understood why we called the pasta “homemade.” Note: You cannot purchase wagon wheel pasta in the homemade variety at stores that sell their own-make pasta.

Authentic pasta is extruded through pure bronze in Italy. I’m not sure why. It’s not a mandatory requirement here in the U.S. De Cecco boasts about its slow drying method that supposedly results in a firm and better-tasting pasta.

Understand — I’m not pushing the imported pasta on you. If you like the cheaper domestic brands, just realize that Barilla is no more Italian than RAGU gravy in a jar.

And for those of you who can’t taste the difference between dry and truly “homemade” fresh pasta, you probably call pasta macaroni.