Traditionally, Italian families only serve filled pastas–ravioli, tortellini, and the like–for special occasions. Requiring skilled hands for filling and folding, the labour-intensive sub-category of pasta that belongs on the holiday table in Italy is far more mainstream for us in Canada, thanks to years of being able to shake pre-made ravioli out of tin cans or quickly heat up a packet we’ve picked up from the grocery store to get it on our weeknight dinner table.
While the canned stuff (that saucy, preservative-laden mush of many a childhood) is pretty easily dismissed, it might surprise some consumers that the refrigerated packets of filled pasta at the Loblaw family of stores are actually legit. Made in Italy just for Loblaws at the oldest filled pasta making business in the country, their line of President’s Choice and PC Black Label filled pastas are rich in tradition.
Loblaw was eager to have Canadian shoppers learn more about how their filled pasta is made, and took a few food writers all the way to northern Italy to get a rare behind-the-scenes tour from the pasta makers themselves.
The pasta maker–who also happens to produce filled pastas for several labels around the globe, including Trader Joe’s in the United States–has enjoyed a long relationship with Loblaw, and works closely with their product development team to ensure they are creating pastas that the Canadian consumers will enjoy.
“The hero is the filling,” explains the pasta maker, noting that their fillings include no preservatives, colouring, or filler. While they take care to ensure the pasta itself is top quality (“silky, like the veil of a bride,” he says) it’s truly what’s inside that counts, and, in fact, they adapt the thickness, and other aspects of the pasta to the filling’s needs–flavour, texture, ingredients, and so on.
Producing a whopping seven million pieces of filled pasta per day, the facility is all about the combination of tradition and innovation. The innovation is the result of a crucial collaboration with the Loblaw team, who will often spend upwards of a year developing a single new filled pasta.
New to the market this November are two new filled pastas: President’s Choice Roasted Cauliflower Ravioli, and PC Black Label Burrata and Nduja Mezzelune, both banking on the enduring or rising popularity of the filling ingredients with Canadian consumers, not just in major cities, but wherever PC pastas are sold coast to coast.
“It’s our job to take something original and turn it in to something Canadians want,” says Kathlyne Ross, VP of Product Development & Innovation for Loblaw.
Canadians definitely want what Loblaws stores are selling, too. (While on our trip, we learned that President’s Choice had just been named one of the country’s most trusted brands overall, and the most trusted brand for packaged foods.) Their pastas have a ratio of filling to pasta than the national brand of filled pastas also popular in Canada, and exemplify Ross and her team’s goal of creating products that truly stand up to well-known national brands.
The most popular filled pasta remains the PC Black Label pumpkin flavour, and while that pasta filling is more in line with what is traditional in the region where the pasta is being made, the company is able to create pastas like the kale-filled ravioli that meet the demands of the consumer, despite breaking from regional traditions.
Kale, incidentally, comes just from Tuscany in Italy, and isn’t found in numerous traditional Italian dishes. (Those needing a break from kale everything may want to book a trip to Italy!) Nduja, on the other hand, is a spicy sausage that is rising in popularity, but may not be immediately familiar to shoppers.
So how is the filled pasta made? Essentially, it begins with the preparation of the filling, which is done in concentrated small batches that are closely monitored, then paired up mechanically with the pasta, which is done while the pasta is initially still in wide, long sheets. The pasta is then cut into its final shape then sent down the line.
The pasta filling and cutting is followed by a brief pasteurization that the pasta maker calls the “softest” in the business. The pasta is then allowed to cool and dry off before packaging and preparing for shipment to Canada.
The last step, of course, is when you take it home and enjoy it for a meal.
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Take a look at a few more images from behind the scenes where President’s Choice filled pasta is made.