“Dry pasta isn’t just one dollar per pound in a box. It can be an experience.”
Joe D’Andrea, the owner of wholesale extruded pasta-focused producer Vera Pasta in West Chester, PA, says this with a strong emphasis. His noodles, he continues, aren’t like the cheap boxes found in the supermarket. They’re something distinctly different: simple, handmade, and full of flavor.
“With commodity pasta… production is based on speed,” Joe explains. “The big producers focus on how quickly they can get their pasta to market, cutting corners on the way.”
“The next time you go to a store, look in a noodle. If it looks dark and smooth inside, it’s a commodity pasta,” Joe continued. Large pasta producers use plastic inserts to quicken the pasta-making process, which robs the noodles of inside ridges that cling to a sauce.
Corners get cut even further when it comes to drying. “They basically bake it,” Joe says. “And it dries out so quickly that it doesn’t preserve the flavor of the wheat. Commodity pasta doesn’t taste like anything.”
“On the artisan side, we dry ours for 24-36 hours on low heat, so it takes out water gently and slowly,” he continues. “Our noodles have a sweetness or nuttiness… depending on the wheat used.”
Joe has been at the helm of Vera Pasta for years, starting the business after coming back to the States following a stint at two restaurants in Italy, part of a hybrid cooking school he was attending.
The shop’s signature is extruded noodles, like penne, rigatoni, or fusilli. These shapes give more room for experimentation, Joe explains — there are over 300 possible shapes he can make.
And to Joe, who says he’s a “chef first,” this experimentation fits right into his “unique” approach to pasta-making.
“I like to play around when I cook, try different things and different ingredients. That’s how we come up with stuff,” he said. “Pastamakers do traditional things, but we’re trying to push the limits as far as flavors and shapes.”
All of his flavored pastas use raw ingredients. If Vera is making a spinach pasta, it’s fresh spinach — not a powder — that goes into the dough. With their spicy roasted garlic, they use actual, oven-roasted garlic. “We go a step further to make more of a wholesome product so that we are able to utilize fresh ingredients,” he said.
This focus on “wholesome” production goes back to Joe’s idea of an experience. By bringing a better product to the table, he’s working to change the way people think about dry pasta.
“If someone wants to buy a one-dollar pasta, I can’t talk them out of that,” Joe added. “But if someone wants something different, that’s, you know, better for your family and done the right way and done the traditional way, that’s us.”
Harvie, Joe says, is “a great way to support the local economy and support communities and small producers across Pennsylvania”. Show Joe (and Vera) your support by throwing a bag or two of his dry noodles in your next delivery! Trust us, you won’t regret it.