As a sea breeze blew in from the Gulf of Naples, small, gold-coloured dust-devils slowly sprouted along the factory rooftop, spiralling their way east toward Mount Vesuvius with the precision of ballerinas pirouetting across a stage floor.
In Gragnano, a town of 29,000 inhabitants located 30km south-east of Naples in Italy’s Campania region, the wind strikes like a bell toll, rhythmically throughout the day. Residents initially thought the breeze was ‘Le Mistral’, a cool, dry wind that blows through Provence into the Mediterranean. They were half right. While the north-westerly wind goes by the same name – and is just as defining a feature in southern Italy as southern France – this Mistral (or Marino, as locals call it) blows the opposite way, bringing humidity and minerals from the sea into the streets of Gragnano.
“You could produce and dry pasta every day because of the predictability of this wind blowing inside the village into the valley,” said Giuseppe Di Martino, CEO, and third-generationpastaio, or pasta maker, at Pastificio Di Martino, one of three major pasta factories in Gragnano.
Known as the ‘Città Della Pasta’ (City of Pasta), Gragnano became famous for its ‘white gold’, or macaroni, when it switched from primarily making silk in the late 1700s when silkworms suddenly started dying of a pest invasion.
The city’s dried pasta-making tradition dates back much further, though, according to professor and historian Giuseppe Di Massa, president of the Centro di Cultura e Storia di Gragnano e Monti Lattari Alfonso Maria Di Nola (Centre for Culture and History of Gragnano and the Lattari Mountains), who cites documents dating to the 1200s that speak of the production of seccata, or dried pasta. Around this same time, the personal doctor of King William II of Sicily, Giovanni Ferrario, who was also a professor at a medical school in Salerno, Italy, proclaimed the benefits of Gragnano’s dry pasta, advising patients with typhoid fever to eat al dente vermiculos, the predecessor to vermicelli, a long pasta slightly thicker than spaghetti.