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Baia Pasta

Bra, Italy. A small town in Piedmont, a region that has given the world such gastronomic greats as Barolo, Barbaresco, Taleggio, Gorgonzola, and (much more recently) the Slow Food Movement. It is only appropriate that Renato Sardo and Dario Barbone of Baia Pasta hail from such a gastronomically overachieving part of the world - perfect food, artfully made and imbued with terroir, is their birthright.

When he was a child, Sardo’s father ran a small warehouse business, selling local charcuterie and cheeses to shops and restaurants around town. Along with Carlo Petrini, his father was also one of the original co-founders of Slow Food Movement. When Renato was old enough he joined the "family business” working his way up at the movement’s headquarters in Bra. He met and fell in love with a co-worker, an American woman from San Francisco. They married, and in 2005 the decision was made to pick up and move to the Bay Area to be closer to her family. “I’d always wanted to live somewhere else, but I moved without any real plan. I’d always worked in food, and been so inspired by friends who were starting food companies and I was longing for a job where I would do things with my hands.”

Sardo had noticed long ago that even the finest Italian dried pastas – a daily staple of his childhood diet – were made with flours from North America. He realized that the artisanal Italian pastas being sold in Bay Area specialty stores had probably made two trips across the Atlantic before making it to the shelves, and the idea for Baia Pasta was born. “It was time to switch from theory to practice. A lot of people are part of, or at least aware of, the sustainable food movement, but there aren’t many who actually produce. There are more cheese producers within a small radius of my hometown in Italy than there are in all of California. But those are old, family businesses that have been passed down over generations. Here, it’s not that easy. Since I’m sort of an idealist, I like the idea of starting from scratch.”

Renato began by finding a great, local semolina producer. Next came the purchase of a large brass pasta extruder, which lived (much to his wife’s chagrin) in his Oakland home. For the first six months, he spread the word by simply making his pastas for underground foodie events around Oakland, usually in tiny batches of no more than 100 lbs. In February of 2012, he wrote his first rent check for a work space in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Then, in April they began to sell at Farmers Markets, and now he does 6 markets every week. All the pastas are still made entirely by hand by Renato and Dario, and other than perhaps the addition of an apprentice, there’s no plan to change that.

“Right now, we produce 900 lbs a week, and we know that we need to get up to 2000 to survive, but there is that demand so things are going really well. My next big goal is to be fully traceable, to have the farmers’ name on every box. Central Milling, where 90% of our flour comes from, is working with us on that. Their main mill, which opened in 1867, is in Utah but all of the flour comes from the west coast.”

Renato hopes to collaborate even more with local farmers to grow lesser known varietals of Italian grain for his pastas, and to move into...long noodles. “We’re definitely a work in progress, but we’re learning the challenges, and the demand is there. We would love to be like the great pasta makers of Italy. We’ll get there.”  

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