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“I’ve been making pasta for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” conceded a defeated Jamie Oliver this summer, after two fruitless hours of trying to master it. Meanwhile, Barilla, an Italian food company, can't work out how to successfully manufacture it, and Carlo Petrini, the leader of the Slow Food Movement, has taken a personal interest in protecting its future.
We're referring to the Italian pasta 'Su Filindeu', or 'the threads of God,' the 300-year-old pasta so difficult to make that only three women in the remote hillside town of Nuoro, on the rugged Italian island of Sardinia know how to.
“Many people say that I have a secret I don’t want to reveal,” Abraini, one of the three women, told the BBC, smiling. “But the secret is right in front of you. It’s in my hands.” That it seems, and plenty of elbow grease.
Made with only three ingredients, including semolina wheat, water and salt, the semolina dough has to be worked into 256 perfectly formed strands further stretched into angels hair thread, which are then laid diagonally across a circular frame and built up to three layers before being dried in the Sardinian sun and broken into pieces ready for cooking.
Traditionally, the pasta forms the heart of the bi-annual festival, being served to hungry pilgrims at the San Francesco feast, enjoyed in a thick soup of boiling sheep’s broth with grated pecorino.
To be fair, it seems the British chef and Italophile Oliver would need more than a few hours to perfect the craft that can take decades to master and which local girls have shunned as too much hard work. “It’s like a game with your hands. But once you achieve it, then the magic happens,” Abraini told the BBC.
Fortunately, Abraini has received so much attention for her pasta, including from Italian restaurant guide/magazine Gambero Rosso, people are now travelling from all over Europe for a taste of the world's rarest pasta. Al Ciusa, Il Rifugio and Agriturismo Testone are now three restaurants in the locality where you can taste the labour of love of three women dedicated to maintaining their cultural identity.