Valicenti Organico: A Soup To Nuts Pasta Farm
Ask any farmer to describe the proverbial thorn in their side and they’ll likely say product waste. Whether due to blight, spoilage, or deformation, every farm has its share.
The exception to the rule is Valicenti Organico Pasta Farm, located in the center of rural Hollis. If the name is any indication, this isn’t your garden-variety farm. On ten acres of land, owners Dave and Michelle Valicenti grow over three-dozen herbs and vegetables, including 20,000 heirloom tomato plants (Amish Paste and Monica, a Roma variety), 4,000 basil plants, eggplant, kale, chard, and broccoli. Only, there’s no waste whatsoever. The secret to their success lies inside the couple’s bucolic red barn.
The barn isn’t a typical storage unit; it’s a processing facility and commercial kitchen where the Valicentis use what they grow to manufacture their popular Valicenti Organico line of sauces, pastas, and 80 varieties of gourmet ravioli. Instead of stacked crates of stored vegetables, the barn is lined with rows of white industrial standing freezers stuffed with packages of gourmet ravioli. Out back, there are two industrial stoves for cooking fillings and an enormous jacketed steam kettle for simmering sauces. Two other similar but separate spaces contain machines for extruding, cutting, and filling traditional and gluten free dough. This is soup to nuts food production: a farm, pasta factory, and retail store all in one.
“Pretty much nothing goes to waste, because we’re processing everything,” says Valicenti
The challenge for them, however, is keeping on pace. “In the summertime it gets a little hairy,” Valicenti admits. Early on, they tried harvesting and proce ssing tomatoes for sauce all at once, but lost 40 percent to spoilage. Now, they smash the harvested tomatoes using an apple crusher that looks like an enormous wood-chipper. They pour the crushed tomatoes into five-gallon buckets, slide them onto wooden pallets, and stack them on a refrigerated container truck, where they remain, frozen, until they need to make more sauce.
With this sort of ingenuity, you might think Valicenti is a lifelong farmer. He grew up in Hollis, across the street from the farm, and fondly recalls helping his parents harvest and can their half-acre backyard garden. But after high school he flew the coop and became a chef, working in Boston and then New Orleans for fifteen years before returning to Hollis in 2005.
He came home intending to open a farm-to-fork restaurant. But a bumper crop of tomatoes in 2007 changed his course.
“I wanted to show my girlfriend (now wife Michelle) what my family does with our tomatoes.” They made his family-recipe red gravy, jarred it, and sold out at a local fair. They repeated the process with the same success the following weekend and realized they were onto something.
The Valicentis raised enough money selling sauces to purchase a commercial kitchen and, in 2009, added a pasta machine. “People went crazy for the pasta,” says Valicenti, who claims the inspiration for his 80-plus gourmet ravioli flavors, like <i> Duck Confit with Shiitake and Ginger and Roasted Beet with Pecorino Toscano,</i> comes from restaurant dishes.
They grow nearly 90 percent of their ingredients on premise, and source just about everything else locally. Mushrooms come from New Hampshire Mushroom Company in Tamworth, ricotta from Wolf Meadow Farm in Amesbury, MA, and flours and grains from Brookford Farm in Canterbury and Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA. Valicenti likes the camaraderie of supporting other local farms, and notes, “it’s more wholesome and so much better for you.”
When not farming, inventing recipes, or creating processing efficiencies, Valicenti works on expanding his wholesale business and keeping up with demand at 26 weekly farmers markets in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At times he feels like a whirling dervish.
Still, he doesn’t regret becoming a farmer and small business owner. “It’s a lot of work to grow, harvest, process, and manufacture. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s very gratifying.”