When I was young and we went to visit my paternal grandparents in Brooklyn, I would go with my Grandma to make her shopping rounds in the neighborhood. She stopped at the bakery to get the Italian braided bread topped with sesame seeds and at the bu
tcher to get the right cut of meat for the braciole; then we’d go to the deli to pick up locally made Italian salami and mozzarella as well as dry goods brought over from Italy. I remember the package of pasta that she always chose: white paper encasing long spaghetti, simple blue and red letters and a clear plastic window so you could see what kind of pasta you were getting. It wasn’t a brand my mother bought and I’ve never seen it in a store since that time.
Until two years ago when I was walking through Naples, and in the window of a little alimentari, a small shop serving the needs of a typical Napolitano neighborhood, I saw a big display that looked so familiar I stopped dead in my tracks. FAELLA, the white packaging with blue and red letters said, and I recognized it immediately as my grandmother’s favorite pasta. Someone, somewhere, was still making the pasta I ate when I was a kid. I had to find them.
I talked to my friend SabatoAbagnale, the head of Sorrento’s Slow Food chapter. Yes, he said, he knew Faella well, it being one of the original artisan pastas from the nearby town of Gragnano (see a previous blog for more on this pasta town). So Sabato and I made an appointment to visit Faella’s production facility, where they still had in use some of the original machines from the early 1900’s.
We met Mario Faella, the 95 year old son of the original owner, who still came down to the factory every day to oversee operations—not because they needed him, he said, but because he enjoyed being there among the action. He’s a legend, charming and polite. Mario kindly took me on a tour, showing me how they made and dried spaghetti and it felt like coming home.
I wanted to tell him what drew me to his factory, why Faella pasta meant something to me and how happy I was to come to Naples and still see the same brand my grandmother used 50 years ago in New York. So I said, “My grandmother was originally from Montella (a town in the mountains an hour away) but she moved to America, and when I was growing up I remember she always used Faella pasta. I didn’t know it was still around, I only just saw it in a store last week in Naples.”
Mario looked me clearly in the eye, his finger pointing to the heavens, and he started his story: “There was a young man, who was the son of our manager, Domenico Letterese was his name, but he didn’t like working in the factory, he didn’t want to study. And my father said to him ‘Domenico, if you don’t want to study you have to take our pasta to America!’ This was before the war. So Domenico took our pasta on the boat in big trunks and sold it to a man who had a store in Brooklyn, and for years we sold our pasta to that one store in Brooklyn!”
“That’s where my grandmother bought it!” I said excitedly. “She lived in Brooklyn! My grandmother bought your pasta from that store!”
All those years, four degrees of separation between me and this charming old man whom I’d never met before, making delicious pasta at his family’s factory in a small town on the coast of Sorrento for my family to enjoy a taste of the old country in Brooklyn.
And now you can once again get Faella pasta on the shores on America, through www.gustiamo.com. Tell them Gina’s grandma sent you!
Buon Appetito! Gina