Taganrog, the Russian wheat that made Neapolitan pasta special

by Federico Quagliuolo

Russia tastes very good. And for more than two centuries we have been discovering it in all pasta dishes on our tables thanks to Taganrog grain, which was the basis of the fortunes of the Neapolitan pasta factories: if in fact today it seems almost a betrayal the use of foreign raw materials in pasta, history teaches us that long ago it was even a source of pride and gave a flavor that no longer exists today.

At the end of the nineteenth century, in fact, it is estimated that over 70% of the wheat processed in Italian pasta factories was of Russian origin and added to the historical presence of the excellent Sicilian and Apulian grains that have always characterized our production. And it was not uncommon to find loose pasta shops that proudly indicated the origin of the raw materials.

Venditori di pasta taganrog
Bulk pasta seller

Ancient flavors, excellent qualities

The Taganrog durum wheat was cultivated more precisely between Ukraine and Russia and took its name from the city on the Sea of Azov, from which the loads left at a time. by Naples and Genoa.
Even today it is considered among the best in the world for nutritional values, speed in cultivation and organoleptic qualities. All characteristics that allowed the creation of a pasta that could keep cooking for a longer time and that guaranteed a consistent and rich flavor. On the other hand, not by chance, until 1917, Russia was the world's leading exporter of wheat. And Italy, which has always boasted excellent grains such as those from Puglia and Sicily, was among the major importers.
After October Revolution the landscape changed completely: the south of the country entered a very strong famine and exports collapsed. Then, in the following years, the policy of the Soviet Union preferred to focus on the production of numerous varieties of soft wheat, almost completely replacing the renowned Taganrog.

Pastifici di Torre Annunziata
One of the streets of Torre Annunziata with the boys bringing pasta in the center. On the right is the de Laurentiis pasta factory, which belonged to the grandfather of the current president of Napoli

The fortune of the historical pasta factories of Campania

The import of Russian grain brought the joys of the whole Kingdom of the Two Sicilies that, already centuries before the beginning of close friendly relations with Russia, had now mastered the art of pasta and was looking for raw materials of ever higher quality.
Especially, thanks to the importation of wheat which in the 19th century reached peaks from record, entire cities became gods open-air pasta factories thanks to the excellent climate and the ease of pasta production, as well as the introduction of the first bronze machines to mechanically work pasta. This was the case with Gragnano, which is in an ideal position for both climate and agricultural possibilities, and of Torre Annunziata, which today retains only a few witnesses of its ancient pasta-making tradition. Without forgetting the infinite production realities that were born between the ancient Terra di Lavoro, Salerno and Benevento.
Pasta was indeed a perfect food from keep, due to its low perishability, e rich in dishes after a simple and quick cooking.

Statua di Giuseppe Garibaldi
The monument to Garibaldi in the port of Taganrog

A failed grain delivery and Garibaldi's enterprise

But pasta, which brought so much glory to Neapolitan industries, was particularly good indigestible for the Bourbon monarchy.
It is said that a young man Garibaldi, who in 1833 was a second class captain on a commercial ship, fell ill and was forced to a short stay in the city of Taganrog. During his hospitalization he got to know several Italian emigrants, including a character known as "The Believer“, Which fascinated him with fiery speeches on the need to unify Italy. From there it seems to have been born the spark that thirty years later led toenterprise of the Thousand.

The story is even remembered with a statue in the port of Taganrog built in 1962. It is a more unique than rare tribute to a hero of the Western world since, in those years, the iron curtain that separated the Soviet Union and the Western world was higher than ever.

-Federico Quagliuolo



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