Daniel DiFiore is the third generation to continue the work of the DiFiore Pasta Company, a family owned and operated Italian specialty store in Hartford, renowned for handmade ravioli, pastas, and prepared meals.What is the history of the DiFiore Pasta Company? My grandparents were always foodies. When they were 62 years old my grandfather was presented with the opportunity to buy a small pasta company so he left the corporate world to have a business of his own. They opened up a little shop in the South End of Hartford in November of 1982. Over the years we’ve moved to a couple different places on Franklin Avenue which has always been the Little Italy of Hartford. We’ve been at our current location for around 16 years.
What does DiFiore Pasta Company make? We make over 20 kinds of ravioli, multiple shapes and flavors of cut & extruded pastas like rigatoni, bucatini, arugula linguine, as well as filled pastas like manicotti and stuffed shells. We also make a wide selection of sauces to pair with our ravioli and pastas. We have a refrigerator devoted to all of our prepared foods like stuffed artichokes, fried hot peppers, eggplant rollatini, and many other Italian specialties. We also make trays of lasagnas and eggplant parms daily.
How has pasta making at DiFiore changed through the years? Over the years we’ve expanded our selection of ravioli and pastas. With the number of foodies increasing, we’ve had to add new and exciting types to keep the interest. Just recently, we purchased a new pasta extruder that just by changing out the solid brass dies, we can make around a dozen new shapes of pasta. Solid brass dies are preferred because they give the pastas that perfect sauce-holding texture. The ravioli machine, however, is still the same one that we had when we first opened the doors. The way it makes the ravioli all in one sheet, rather than cutting them individually, isn’t something you see in machines a lot anymore. And to us, breaking apart the sheet of ravioli is half the fun.
How does this pasta differ in taste and recipe performance from supermarket pasta? We make our pastas and ravioli with nothing but the best ingredients. The flours we use come from North Dakota, which is known for its high quality flour. Pasta companies in Italy get their flour from North Dakota. The ricotta we use is creamier and higher in fat content so it has better flavor and texture then what most large companies use to cut cost. Some companies will use a less superior flour which will give it an off color, taste, and texture. We use the solid brass dies to extrude our pastas. A lot of large companies use dies that have Teflon inserts because it speeds up the manufacturing process. The Teflon dies give the pasta a smoother surface and brighter color. Many people have the misconception that that would be a better product. However, when they have that smooth texture the sauce slides right off the pastas. Our pastas are made fresh daily and do not have any preservatives to extend the shelf life like a lot of bigger fresh pasta companies use. I get many people who try our fresh pasta for the first time and later tell me they will never eat boxed pasta again.
What role did the family business play in your childhood? When I was a kid, I didn’t live real close to the store so I sadly didn’t get in there as much as I would have liked. However, growing up with a great Italian food business in the family did turn me into a bit of a food snob at a pretty young age.
Did you work in the food industry before joining the family business? I always joke that I was raised to be in the food business. When I was around 10 years old my dad owned a restaurant on a golf course where I would occasionally work as a dishwasher. My dad would always say to me “never be in the restaurant business.” Then ten minutes later he’d hand me a sauté pan with some dry pasta in it and have me practice my sauté pan flipping technique. That sent some mixed messages. Needless to say I wound up wanting to be a chef. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great restaurants over the years doing anything from dishwashing to line cook. I worked at Cavey’s in Manchester for around 4 years. That’s where I got a lot of my food knowledge. I was always really eager to learn whatever I could so I would work for free just so I could learn.
What made you decide to work in the family business? I think the big factor that made me want to work in the family business was that I wanted to continue what my grandparents worked so hard for. I’d hate to have seen the business close because they were too old to keep it open.
What do you do at DiFiore Pasta Company? I get to do a little bit of everything. My main gig is running all the ravioli and overseeing the production. I also sub in running pastas and occasional cooking of sauces and prepared foods. I like when I get to work the register so I can interact with my customers. Every Sunday I pack up the truck and do the farmers market. My favorite thing is going out selling my product to local restaurants, and doing my deliveries to all the local restaurants we do business with.
What has your learning curve been like? In the beginning I had a pretty big learning curve. I really wanted to start doing all sorts of new things and changing the way things were being produced to speed them up. I didn’t really have anyone to show me how to do that so I spent a lot of days figuring out recipes. The learning curve to get the dough consistent every time was probably the hardest. Each bag of flour was a little different than the last. The time of year and what it’s doing outside plays a big part in how much liquid gets added into the batch to get it just right. I’m always getting requests from customers to try different flavors of pastas so the learning process almost never ends. I have a better idea of what I’m doing now so it doesn’t take me quite as long to come up with a new recipe.
What do you enjoy most about it? I really enjoy going into the restaurants and talking about the dishes the chefs are doing with my pastas. I also love the fact that I’m playing a part in helping the family business grow.
What challenges you the most? Tomato dough. Never an easy thing to run. Something about tomatoes messes with the strength of the pasta and it can be a real nightmare if you don’t get it just right.
What role do you see specialty food makers having in the future of CT’s local food scene? Lately, there has been a huge push for everything to be local and fresh. So specialty stores like us having been getting busier not only in our stores, but the local restaurants and markets want local fresh products. Everyone is starting to realize they’re better off paying that extra dollar at the mom and pop shop than buy from a large corporation. Specialty food stores are also now a big part of all the farmers markets. Now you can go to a farmers market and buy fresh veggies to mix with your fresh pasta, and some fresh pastries for dessert. It’s great.
If one has never been to DiFiore Pasta Shop before, what should they absolutely not miss trying? When I get a new customer I always try and start them with the jumbo cheese ravioli. It’s what we’re most known for. I’m pretty confident that they’ll love those enough to come back a second time and try something a little different like the sausage, peppers and onions ravioli.
Photos by Liss Flint, for Connecticut Food and Farm