In addition to serving as CEO of the family business, Riccardo holds the prestigious positions of president of the Italian Union of Pasta Makers as well as president of the International Pasta Organization. Married with two children, Riccardo eagerly awaits the opportunity to pass down the business to the youngest generation and continue the tradition that has defined excellence in pasta for over a century. Today, the Felicetti company is truly an international one, producing 60 tons of pasta daily in 100 different shapes to export to 40 countries globally.
Mood of Living Q&A
Mood of Living: What is your hometown?
Riccardo Felicetti: I was born and have lived my entire life in the small but very charming town of Predazzo in the Trentino region of northern Italy.
MoL: Where did you go to school?
RF: I went to school in Predazzo through high school. While I was waiting for word on getting into a University, my family convinced me that instead of college, it was more important to get business experience abroad so I could introduce modern business and marketing skills to our pasta factory.
MoL: What is your current occupation?
RF: I represent the 4th generation in our family-owned company. I’m not only CEO of Felicetti, but also President of the Italian Union of Pasta Makers and was unanimously voted President of the International Pasta Organization.
MoL: What was your first job?
RF: My first job was in our pasta factory helping in the packing department. I loaded and unloaded trucks and prepared orders for delivery.
MoL: What was your job before joining Felicetti?
RF: I was a police officer for two years!
MoL: Felicetti is a family business. What was your family’s journey in creating a pasta company?
RF: In 1908 Valentino Felicetti, my great-grandfather, founded the Felicetti Pasta Company near the Dolomites in Northern Italy. This was a bold, visionary move as this area of Italy ate very little pasta, instead preferring risotto and polenta. Utilizing the supremely clean air and crystal clear water the area provided, Valentino’s pasta was an instant success, prized for its exceptional flavor and quality. Today, the Felicetti Company is still family-run and continues to manage the company in the same time-honored traditions as previous generations. They are proud to hold the standing as the world’s largest producer of 100% Organic Pasta.
MoL: What is your core mission at Felicetti?
RF: Our core mission is to create the world’s best organic pasta in a green, sustainable manner that is respectful of the environment. It’s what we’ve done and believed in for four generations.
MoL: Did you always know you would become a part of the family business?
RF: Yes, absolutely. Pasta is part of my DNA!
MoL: Please describe the different divisions of the company: Felicetti, Felicetti Speciale Gastronomia, and Monograno Felicetti.
RF: FELICETTI is our basic line of organic products- pasta as it should be: simple, healthy and flavorful. Pastificio Felicetti elevates Italy’s most famous food to supreme status, creating something holiday-special that can be enjoyed every day. There are 11 kinds of pasta and over 200 shapes in durum wheat, whole wheat, kamut, farro, squid ink, chile pepper and egg pasta.
Speciale Gastronomia is our line of pasta for catering and restaurants. Optimum thickness means it always cooks perfectly, even when cooked twice. It is the ideal pasta for professional kitchens thanks to its organoleptic properties, its pleasing appearance and its pure flavor.
Monograno Felicetti is a line of unique single-varietal grains, each organically grown in the ideal terroir for that grain. Our idea was very close to the idea of winemakers— that if you take the vine and plant it in different areas of the world, you would have totally different results. The Monograno Felicetti line of pasta comes in four varieties. Farro, made with 100% organic whole grain farro, is an ancient grain sown in the Italian Alps with three times the fiber of conventional pasta. Skillfully the Felicettis turn this exceptional farro flour into premium pasta that during cooking releases the delicate fragrance of toasted hazelnuts. Its texture is firm and wonderfully chewy. Its flavors hint of freshly baked bread with hints of roasted peanuts and sweet red dates. Kamut, made with 100% organic mono-origin Khorasan Kamut® flour, a descendent of an ancient strain, is organically grown in Montana and Canada. When cooked it releases a lovely floral and fruity aroma with a delicate flavor of macadamia and pine nuts. Matt is a hearty, rich variety of 100% durum wheat harvested exclusively from select farms in Puglia and Sicily. Matt’s principal characteristics are a high percentage of protein, exceptional aroma and flavor, and intense yellow color reflecting the high quality of this wholegrain flour. Cappelli, made with a single-varietal of ancient, long-stem grain, is renowned in Italy for the fact that just a few months after planting it grows deep roots that penetrate the ground to a depth of 6 feet. Unlike modern grains with shallow roots, which receive nutrients from the surface, this grain is fed from deep in the pure Italian organic soil. This is an organic grain, grown in special organic farms only in Puglia. This pasta is made from a variety of wheat called “Senator Cappelli”, dedicated to the genius of Nazareno Strampelli— an important but little-known geneticist, agronomist and Senator of Italy.
MoL: What is special about your pasta? Is it the grain organic? Does your pasta have any health benefits?
RF: The pasta is special because it’s made with such quality grains that the pasta is delicious even without sauce! Felicetti uses only the best organic raw materials, creating pasta with exceptional flavor and purity. Felicetti costs more because it is 100% organic from the world’s highest quality grains, resulting in a more delicious and healthier pasta than anything else on the market. Our pasta is organic, non-GMO and Kosher, and has many nutritional benefits. It has three times the fiber of conventional pasta with 30% higher protein content. It is grown organically, so there are no pesticides or harmful ingredients. Pasta is also low on the glycemic index (an indicator of blood sugar levels after eating), never going over 50. In comparison, the glycemic index for bread is in the 70’s or 80’s. How it’s cooked also makes a difference: cooking it al dente (literally “to the tooth”), as opposed to soft and overcooked, also yields pasta lower on the glycemic index and contributes to slower absorption and release of energy. In other words, it keeps you fuller for longer.
MoL: Please describe the pasta-making process from grain to the final product.
RF: The first step started back when we selected the best ancient grain for pasta. We then systematically tested which areas of the globe grow the best-tasting farro, kamut and durum wheat. We grind this organic grain each morning for only that day’s pasta production. The flour is then mixed with crystal clear spring water from the nearby Dolomite Mountains that is piped directly into our factory. The pasta is bronze died, cut and then dried in the pristine Dolomite Mountain air near our factory.
MoL: What innovations are Felicetti making in the pasta industry while staying true to tradition?
RF: Our biggest innovation is using only single-origin, mono-varietal ancient grain. We are very proud to have received three sofi silver awards for our pasta! In 2014 we were nominated for Best Organic Product and also Best Pasta, Grain or Rice and again in 2016 we were nominated for Best Pasta, Grain or Rice.
MoL: What is your commitment to sustainability for the future?
RF: We are deeply committed to organic farming by preserving our natural resources, promoting biodiversity, respecting the ecosystem balance and safeguarding the environment. More than 90% of the energy consumed in our factory is derived from a co-generation of power system and a system of photovoltaic panels. In 2017 we plan on purchasing electric bicycles fueled by our employees and aim to replace the company’s cars with electric or hybrid cars by 2020. Our commitment to organic farming methods is a far-reaching, all-encompassing program, which involves controlled production methods and often demands us to go the extra mile. We do extensive research on cultivation methods, responsible farming, total exclusion of chemical fertilizers and the reduction of intensive farming.
MoL: How do you support the local community? Is your company involved with any social impact or environmental initiatives?
RF: The Felicetti Company is dedicated to fighting childhood hunger and has donated 20 tons of pasta to Caterina’s Club, an organization in Anaheim, California that provides 6,000 warm, free nutritional pasta meals to the area’s underprivileged children each week. The Felicetti Company is also dedicated to healthful living and supports many sports teams and athletes in Italy. A unique aspect of our company is its strong moral values and ethics.
MoL: In what ways are these values integrated in your daily business? Please discuss your commitment to sharing.
RF: Respect is the key to everything, from the simple following of local rules like speed laws to deep and total respect for people who work with us, our clients and our suppliers. Or respecting the environment and raw materials. Respect, period!
MoL: How committed are you to the quality of your product? Do you have to sacrifice quantity for quality?
RF: The Felicetti Company is profoundly dedicated to quality. We often have to sacrifice quantity for quality. For example, our new Cappelli grain yields only about ¼ as much flour as other grains, but the resulting flavor and texture is so superior that it is worth it.
MoL: Do you have children that are working at the company?
RF: My sons, Luca age 16 and Mattia age 10, are the 5th generation family members of the company, and have already started coming by to learn how Felicetti makes pasta.
MoL: What challenges do you face running a business that has been in your family for over one hundred years?
RF: The world is changing quickly and we have to adapt just as quickly. The most important challenge is to adapt to the new international rules on packaging and ingredients, without forgetting the foundations on which our company was founded.
MoL: What are the advantages of working near the Dolomite Mountains? How does the region affect the taste and quality of your product?
RF: To understand why, it’s important to remember that pasta is basically just three ingredients: flour, water and air. The pristine water we use to make our pasta comes from the crystal clear nearby natural springs, and our pasta dries in the clean, unpolluted air of the Dolomites. We are blessed to be in such an ideal pasta-making setting.
MoL: Do you have a favorite scent?
RF: I adore the aroma of cooked pasta!
MoL: Do you have a hobby?
RF: I am an avid skier and golfer. I love music and reading spy novels to relax.
MoL: What is your favorite quote?
RF: My favorite quote is by Fellini, Italy’s renowned cinema director, who said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta”.
MoL: Who is an influential figure in your life?
RF: Heinz Kaiser, my first boss in Germany.
MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?
RF: The best advice I ever received was when I was 6 years old from my grandfather, Emilio. I still remember it and follow the advice today. He said, “When working in our pasta company remember one thing: pay suppliers and employees first, then and only then, if anything is left over pay yourself.”
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit? Do you have a photo you would like to share?
RF: My favorite place for peace of mind and spiritual serenity is California. Here’s a picture of me looking into the gorgeous Pacific Ocean from the cliffs of California.
MoL: As someone who values preservation of the earth, do you spend much time creating a beautiful home? Do you entertain? Do you cook? If so, do you have photos of your home and a favorite dish?
RF: As I have to spend so much time either in our factory or traveling for business, my lovely wife Deborah devotes herself to keeping our home warm and welcoming. We both love entertaining and have friends and family often come for dinner. I usually cook the pasta dish! I have many ways to prepare pasta. One of my favorites doesn’t even need a recipe. Just melt a little butter and anchovy fillets, then toss with cooked pasta and top with toasted breadcrumbs. Simple but sublime.
MoL: Do you have a favorite pasta recipe you would like to share?
RF: One of my favorite recipes is for “Pasta Sushi”- a simple concept of using pasta shells instead of rice to make sushi. Piedmont’s amazingly creative two Michelin star chef Davide Scabin invented “pasta sushi” a few years ago, substituting pasta shells for white rice. Genius! He seasons the shells with a splash of rice vinegar and few drops of mirin, a sweet Japanese rice wine, then lets the imagination rip, filling the shells with any sort of seafood, cooked or raw, garnished in a myriad of ways. Try Chef Scabin’s combos, like lobster and horseradish, sea urchin and burrata cheese, or raw oyster topped with slivers of fresh pineapple.
The recipe I use is courtesy of Francine Segan’s book, Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy. I use 3 to 4 Felicetti Monograno Conchiglioni (large pasta shells) per person, seasoned with salt, lemon or vinegar, Marsala or sherry. Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente, drain, and toss with a splash of lemon or vinegar and Marsala. Spread out onto a plate so the shells do not touch, and let cool to room temperature. Fill each shell with seafood and garnish as you like.
Filling suggestions: raw tuna, salmon, oysters, sea urchin, caviar. Garnish suggestions: lemon zest, fresh pineapple, burrata or other creamy cheese, red chili pepper, flaked sea salt.