PHILADELPHA — Ronzoni, the 108-year-old pasta brand, announced recently that it will stop making pastina — and America is not happy.
Italian American parents have fed the tiny, star-shaped pasta cooked in soup, or fixed in a bowl with milk, butter and Parmesan cheese, to generations of infants and children. They, in turn, grew up to revere Ronzoni pastina in the iconic blue box as an ultimate comfort food that’s fortified them through rainy days and sorrows well into adulthood. Over time, even non-Italians have come to embrace the brand.
That’s why the end of Ronzoni pastina has sparked a my-world-is-over vibe akin to the cancellation of a beloved TV show, with melodramatic posts on social media and nationwide petitions on Change.org demanding the decision be reversed. Meanwhile, the price of already purchased Ronzoni pastina has increased around 1,000%, with 12-ounce boxes going for $20 a pop on eBay.
Stories about Ronzoni’s corporate owners, 8th Avenue Food & Provisions of Missouri, bidding arrivederci to pastina have appeared in Parade and the New York Post, as well as on the “Today” show, CNN and Fox News.
“I am devastated,” Long Island writer Michele Catalano posted on Twitter. “Pastina with milk and butter is my comfort food. Nothing feels like home, safety, warmth, and comfort like eating a bowl of pastina when you’re sad.”
In a Bon Appétit article, Celia Mattison wrote, “I was the only Black girl in fifth grade ... craving for the most comforting food I knew. ... I still crave pastina when I am sick or heartbroken. Like my mother, I always keep a box in my pantry.”
Salvatore Auriemma, owner of Claudio’s Specialty Foods in Philadelphia’s 9th St. Market, said he’s been inundated by panicked customer questions about the end of Ronzoni pastina, which has been translated as “little pasta” or “little dough.” Around Philly, it’s often called “pasteen.”
“Oh, God, if I hear another person ask me about it,” he said. “My own daughters are worried. There’s such a demand for it.
“I get it. Pastina is the best thing since the wheel. It’s the first thing they feed you when you’ve got the sniffles: Pastina, that’ll fix it.”
That could be why people call pastina “Italian penicillin,” much like chicken soup is known as “Jewish penicillin” — good for what ails you.
Al Sacchetti, director of clinical services at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Camden, New Jersey, won’t be adding pastina to his arsenal of medications anytime soon. But, he will allow, pastina in broth “is a good way to get some calories along with salt and fluid into a child with gastrointestinal issues.”
A pastina eater from his childhood in Olney, Sacchetti had been unaware of the Ronzoni story. “This is sad news,” he said. “I’ll have to tell my wife. She’ll be very upset.”
The 8th Avenue company cites supply-chain issues as the reason to stop making pastina. Cristian de Ritis, deputy chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, said the war in Ukraine has driven up wheat prices — at one point last year spiking from $7.35 to $13 a bushel — which may have affected 8th Avenue’s decision. The company did not respond to calls or email.
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He stressed that even with Ronzoni’s withdrawal of pastina from the marketplace, people can buy that same type of pasta from other companies.
Still, de Ritis, a pastina eater since childhood, understands Ronzoni love: “Nostalgia certainly matters when it comes to customers’ tastes. You miss a product when it’s not around.”