A box of pasta from Konya to your dinner table

A box of pasta from Konya to your dinner table

May 15, 2012, Tuesday/ 16:07:00

It never occurred to us that a pasta (called “makarna” in Turkish) factory could be this romantic. But this one has just a feeling to it: You simply cannot get enough of the atmosphere, just as you can’t get enough of the food produced here.

We are a nation that likes our pasta. In fact, we love every type there is, and even more so when there is fresh butter on it. You might be able to turn out a delicious plate of pasta in the comfort of your own home in just 10 minutes, but the actual production of pasta is a different story altogether. It takes between five and seven hours to make the same pasta you later cook so quickly. Shorter cuts of pasta such as farfalle and rigatoni take five hours to make, while longer cuts such as spaghetti take seven hours.

In the Konya-based factory belonging to the company Selva Makarna, four tons of pasta are produced in one hour. This translates to about 8,000 packages of pasta and a huge volume of sales. We took a day to travel from İstanbul to Konya to see this factory in person, to witness the mass production of pasta and to hear more about this product, which is becoming a more and more important part of the country’s economy. İttifak Holding CEO Mehmet Ali Korkmaz, who heads the company that owns Selva Makarna, and Selva Makarna General Manager Mehmet Karakuş were both very excited to show us the factory and discuss their business. But after talking to them for a while, we moved on, wanting to watch the actual production stages involved in this simple but fulfilling food. We slipped on galoshes and white overcoats, and before we knew it, were in the 30 degree Celsius factory?.

The amber yellow of the pasta being produced seemed to emerge from the machines like fabric meant for a skirt. The pasta sways as it is produced, which is what makes it appear all the more material-like. It is the drying stage of making pasta that is particularly difficult, and it calls for the most care. It takes less time to make the dough for the pasta (mixing semolina and water), to achieve its ultimate shape, to cut it and to package it than to dry it.

The history of Selva Makarna

Selva Makarna began producing pasta in 1998. Ever since production began, the factory has saved samples of pasta from batches every hour. In other words, you can still find pasta produced the very first day of production, back in 1998, in their warehouse. This factory is very proud of its quality. The warehouse where they save their hourly samples is like a special archive of pasta. They knew that they can always refer to this archive for evidence in the event of a complaint. Interestingly, packages of Selva pasta carry not only production dates, but also other codes understood only by officials working at the factory. The codes indicate which shift produced that batch of pasta, and they include the first initial of the shift leader as well. If and when a customer complaint comes in, the sample pasta from that batch is brought out from the warehouse and compared with the pasta that has been packaged. If necessary, they even cook the pasta. And if that’s not enough, it is sent off to a university laboratory. They try to figure out whether the problem originated with them or with the customer. Say there is a bug: Was it packaged along with the pasta, or did it make its way into the package from outside? All of these things are figured out, if such an incident does arise, and are shared with the customer.

Electricity from pasta steam

I have no idea how it must feel to work in a pasta factory, but touring one is not that easy. You feel overheated, for one thing, since it really is hot inside. The special pasta drying tunnels are as hot as 95 Celsius. And the air is extremely humid. But this is how it must be, since pasta calls for intense steam in order to dry. The Selva factory produces its own electricity from natural gas. But they also turn all their steam into electricity

On the diet list?

It used to be that no diet would ever include pasta; in fact, for people trying to lose weight, pasta was always on the list of forbidden foods. So what has changed? We asked Karakuş, who replied: “Actually nothing. But people had insufficient information. The wheat used to make bread and to make pasta are actually different from one another. The glycemic index of the wheat used to make pasta is low; it serves to provide energy and allows them to feel full for longer periods of time. It is not really the pasta itself that makes people gain weight, but all those sauces put on top of it.”