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Traditions that survive: the Emilian sfoglina (pasta maker)

That of the sfoglina (a pasta maker) is an artisanal craft that has withstood the passing of time and has recently become a professional qualification acknowledged by the Emilia Romagna Region

Flour-filled hands, an apron knotted at the waist and a handkerchief on the head: this is the uniform the sfoglina wears.  

But what exactly does ‘pasta making’ mean in Italian tradition?  A fundamental task in all the kitchens of Italy until a few decades ago: the head of the household, the person who took care of both food and the domestic economy, made fresh egg pasta by hand almost every day. She made the dough with flour and eggs, as well as rolled it out and thinned it with a rolling pin.

Today, in modern kitchens, including home kitchens, making pasta by hand means using tools like the planetary mixer and the pasta machine. The sfoglina, on the other hand, is the irreprehensible guardian of the age-old, wide, and strong gestures that allow the dough to be rolled out using the force of the arms and the whole body to obtain a homogeneous dough and a perfectly smooth and thin pastry.

Emilia Romagna, Emilia Romagna, the pasta-making enclave of Italy

Handmade pasta is a tradition and a staple in all Italian regions, especially central Italy, but it is in Emilia Romagna, home of tortellini and all stuffed egg pasta, that the sfogline have established their own impregnable stronghold centuries ago. The Region safeguards this heritage of knowledge and craftsmanship by recognising the work of the sfogline as a true profession, an art that started its candidature as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021 thanks to the Municipality of Bologna.

The future of the sfogline

The fact that it is a physically tiring and demanding job does not help to make it popular with young people, yet there are plenty of cookery schools dedicated to handing down the pasta maker trade, which used to be exclusively reserved for women and now welcomes generations of young men ready to make it their profession. This is an activity that is impossible not to fall in love with, a fascinating challenge with ourselves to achieve a perfection of the gestures and of the pastry. The latter needs to be strong enough not to break in the cooking process, but thin enough to be soft to the fork and bite test and, above all, smooth enough and, at the same time, rough enough to hold the perfect amount of sauce on the surface to suit each type of pasta.

No wonder, then, that to become a perfect sfoglina one needs long hours of practice, considering that in the past this art was learnt as a child, learning to take care, pastry sheet after pastry sheet, of the livelihood of an entire family.

In Modena, with Anna, our sfoglina

We went to Modena, a city that claims the title of true capital of authentic Emilian flavour, to document the ancient and perfect gestures of the sfoglina.  We met Anna Bazzani, who proudly and professionally carries on her business as a sfoglina (pasta maker) and her cooking school in Marano sul Panaro (a town of five thousand inhabitants in the province of Modena).

Along with Anna, our chef Walter Zanoni made pasta by hand, using only a rolling pin and the force of his arms, and then created the typical maccheroncini pasta of the area.

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