It's got all the buzzwords that make nerdy locavores swoon: local, fresh, artisanal, heritage. But farmers John Rowe and Paul Moyer don't just make the pasta they sell at farmers' markets and to restaurants - they grow, harvest and grind the Red Fife wheat that goes into making their noodles.
"I don't think any other pasta product you buy," Mr. Rowe says, "can tell you where the wheat was grown, how it was grown and when it was milled."
Mr. Rowe of Rowe Farms and Mr. Moyer of Cherry Avenue Farms first began growing Red Fife last year, after Mr. Moyer began sniffing around for opportunities to introduce a new local product.
"I just thought it was time for 'local' to spread out into other products besides fruit or meat," said Mr. Moyer, who raises cherries, apples and peaches on land in the Niagara region that his family has farmed since the 1790s.
"I saw a lot of bakeries using local wheat," he adds. "But it was hard to find pasta made from local wheat. So hard, in fact, that I couldn't find any."
He approached Mr. Rowe, who farms mostly cattle, for some direction, and his long-time friend jumped on board.
Deciding on Red Fife was easy. The heritage wheat, one of the country's dominant grains more than a century ago, is now grown by only a handful of farmers across Canada. "We like the fact that Red Fife was there when the west was opened," Mr. Moyer says. "It was a natural choice because it's been growing here for generations and it was almost lost."
They bought a commercial pasta machine in Montreal and set it up in Mr. Moyer's garage, then bought a mill and started grinding the wheat and testing recipes. "We had some disasters in the beginning," Mr. Rowe concedes. For instance, they learned that if the wheat goes right from the mill into the pasta, the end result is too wet. Now they dry the flour before making the dough, but only for an hour - if the wheat is too dry, it plugs up the machine.
They've burned out motors and had all the cutters break. Sometimes, Mr. Rowe has to sit there and cut the pasta manually. But after much trial and error, they have a noodle that looks almost off-puttingly healthy, but with a subtle nutty flavour that makes it distinct.
"Most whole wheat pasta can be a bit grainy," says Brad Lomanto, sous chef at Spencer's at the Waterfront in Burlington where they have a Red Fife and nettle gnocchi on the menu. "This is unique - it has a smooth texture and it's almost naturally al dente."
The pasta is available at The Fat Duck in Guelph and in Toronto at The Drake Hotel, the St. Lawrence Market and Wychwood Barns farmers' market.
They currently sell linguine, fettuccine, penne and a vegan rigatoni (made with either spinach, bell pepper or beets rather than eggs), but Mr. Rowe is looking for someone who can make pasta cutters here in Canada (rather than buying them from Italy) so they can cut the dough to customers' specifications. And it remains a two-man operation, apart from help with packaging on Fridays from some young Dutch Mennonite women who live up the road from Mr. Moyer's farm.
About the only thing they haven't figured out is what to call their product. "We want to come up with a really great name, but we haven't had time to focus on that," Mr. Moyer says. "We're farmers. Maybe someone with more time on their hands than us can come up with one."