Living History: Italian immigrant became Utah's pasta king

Published August 10, 2013 2:08 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After working in the mines of Pennsylvania, Colorado and Mercur, Utah, at the turn of the century, Italian immigrant Antonio Ferro opened a small market at 562 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City, married his sweetheart, Giovannina Calfa, and found his true calling.

In 1906, the young entrepreneur managed — owned and incorporated — the Western Macaroni Manufacturing Co. He helped bring epicurean cuisine to the tables of the masses, boosted Utah's agricultural economy, and became known as the Pasta King of the Mountain West.

With a nod to royalty, Ferro marketed his products under the label "Queen's Taste." He oversaw the production of more than 45 types of pasta from the tiny beads of acini di pepe, coiled capellini, corkscrew fusilli, elbow maccheroni, wide linguini, flat pappardelle to spaghetti, ribbons of tagliatelle and tube-shaped ziti noodles. Carloads of pasta were also shipped throughout California, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.

According to an April 7, 1916, Deseret News article, the pasta company was "in every sense of the word a Utah concern, and said to be largest plant of its kind west of Chicago. One point of interest to the housewife is that no artificial coloring is used."

Dried pasta is made of wheat and water; fresh pasta requires eggs. Ferro used unleavened dough composed of 80 percent hard durum wheat (semolina) flour from Minnesota and 20 percent hardy winter Turkey Red grown on dry farms in Idaho and Utah. Daily, 10,000 pounds of pasta rolled off the production line; annually more than 150,000 locally purchased eggs were added to the fresh mix.

Ferro's factory occupied five floors of a large building at 242 S. 400 West, an area of residential and commercial diversity. He employed 25 to 30 men and women full time.

In his expansive, well-ventilated plant outfitted with electricity, Ferro's modern manufacturing equipment consisted of commercial mixers, kneaders, various pressing machines, cutters, driers and packagers — a far cry from early pasta-making in the United States that once relied on horse-drawn power.

Reporters described the pasta-making in detail in the 1927 edition of The Utah Payroll Builder, a monthly journal published by the Utah Manufacturers Association.

From a reservoir box built above an industrial mixer, 300 pounds of blended flour were released into the enormous bowl below and mixed with warm water until the two ingredients turned into dense, stiff dough.

The reporters said the dough was taken out and transported to two heavy cog-kneading machines, a "conveyance between the kneaders rolled the flattened dough on edge in order to allow more perfect mixing as it [went] from kneader to kneader."

Once the dough's texture became pliable, it was fed into the pressing machines that resembled large double-cylinder pumps, each one holding nearly "two bushels" of paste. The reporters noted that 1,500 pounds of hydraulic pressure pushed an extruding piston slowly down the cylinder and squeezed the paste through a number of small holes in the bottom.

Different machines and dies (metal discs with specific holes and needles) shaped the dough into numerous sizes, lengths and forms, including stars, alphabet letters, bow ties, cylinders and shells.

Cut and trimmed, the pasta traveled to one of 11 rooms where critical evaporating techniques ensured the right amount of moisture was retained.

Thousands of racked spaghetti strands required a two-step drying process that took up to four days in Utah's arid environment. Short noodles on wire trays were stirred every 10 hours for even drying.

Plant employees, working day and night shifts, monitored room hydrometers and regulated dampers and fans to control the drying cycle — too much toughened the pasta; too little made it brittle.

For 36 years, Ferro's company produced near-perfect pasta.

"There is none better made than the famous 'Queen's Taste' brand," the reporters concluded.

Ferro closed shop in 1942 and died two years later. His legendary pasta is now a tasty memory.

Eileen Hallet Stone, an oral historian, may be reached at ehswriter@aol.com. Special thanks to Walter Jones and Paul Mogren of the University of Utah's Marriott Library.



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