Boulder, Colorado

Using healthier grains in her company’s award-winning pastas, co-founder Claudia Bouvier has found success “reimagining a pantry staple.”

“There are few companies doing what we’re doing,” says Bouvier. Pastificio Boulder makes and sells over a dozen different kinds of pastas — from rings to spaghetti to shells — which incorporate ancient and heritage wheat grains.

The company works with local farms to obtain unique, organically-grown wheat berries — with colorful names like Red Fife, White Sonora, and Blue Emmer — in order to create its own “sustainably grown, freshly milled, whole-grain” wheat flours. “Each pasta that we make has at least three different varieties of wheat,” Bouvier says.

And using over 50 percent freshly milled flour allows the resulting pasta to “retain nutrition and flavor,” she says. The company also uses organic semolina durum wheat flour, although it’s presently experimenting with two ancient durum varieties that are starting to be grown locally. While a “nutty” flavor comes from a variety like Blue Emmer and a “textural creaminess” from kamut, durum is what provides pasta with its needed “elasticity,” she says.

Bouvier met her husband and co-founder, Ted Steen, when he was the head brewer and co-owner at Bank Street Brewing Co. in Stamford, Connecticut, and she was working for an architectural firm in New York City. While they were still dating, Steen gifted Bouvier a pasta-making course at a renowned culinary school, and the craft became a passion of hers.

In 2012, the couple and their daughters moved to Boulder for a lifestyle change. While pursuing a master’s at the University of Colorado, Bouvier brainstormed the idea for a pasta company with the help of the business incubator, Catalyze CU. While her counterparts were applying Lean startup concepts like minimum viable product towards software development and other tech-centric disciplines, Bouvier focused those same lessons on pasta-making, she says.

Steen began helping out by sourcing unique wheat varieties from Colorado farmers and developing relationships with them. Initially, the couple only made fresh pastas. However, they quickly realized they needed to sell dried pasta as well in order to be commercially viable.

Steen is a bit of an anomaly in the industry. “Ted had something unique for a pasta maker — gluten sensitivity,” says Bouvier, noting that he has experienced healthier results eating heritage and ancient grains than he has with mass-produced wheat varieties, which are often stripped of key nutrients. “Ted eats pasta pretty much every day, and does pretty well with those kinds of wheats.” The company also occasionally makes gluten-free pasta from buckwheat, chia seeds, and quinoa.

In 2020, the company moved into a 2,700-square-foot production space it rents in downtown Boulder. There, flour is milled from wheat berries — often on the same day the pasta is being made. Eldorado Springs water is added to make dough, and the company uses an Italian extruder machine to produce pasta in a variety of shapes, which result from the bronze dies (Pastificio has over a dozen) the dough gets pushed through.

The drying is especially tricky, taking place over 36 to 48 hours in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. In addition to preventing the resulting pasta from cracking during boiling, Bouvier says, “[The slow drying] allows us to retain more of the flavor and the nutrition, besides [just insuring] the stability of the pasta.”

Since 2020, the company has experienced 5X growth. Its dried pastas are available at most Whole Foods stores in the Rocky Mountain region. And they can be purchased online through Pastificio Boulder’s own web store, in addition to online powerhouse Food52 and wholesale site Mable. The company also has a brick-and-mortar shop attached to the production facility in Boulder, where people can buy fresh and dried pastas as well as prepared meals to go.

In 2021, two of the company’s pastas — rigatoni and garganelli — won prestigious Good Food Awards. “To receive that [recognition] was mind-blowing,” says Bouvier. And it led to additional accounts for the company’s products.

For Bouvier, her present work is an extension of those long-ago family meals prepared by her Italian relatives in Brazil. “Sundays were sacred at my grandparents’ house,” she says. “It was always my grandmother cooking food — and pasta had to be on the table.” And although Bouvier didn’t necessarily learn about pasta-making directly from her grandparents, she did discover “food as a way of communicating love and community and shared tradition.”

During her subsequent travels in Italy, Bouvier found that many towns have shops that prepare artisanal pasta on a daily basis, and inspired her current emphasis on community. (It also follows that the word “pastificio” loosely translates as a “company which makes pastas.”)

Photos courtesy Pastificio Boulder

Just as many people get jazzed when first learning about all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes, Bouvier sees the same thing taking place when it comes to those ancient and heritage wheats she turns into pastas. “There’s such an excitement discovering those different seeds,” she says.

Challenges: Making the company’s pasta requires finely ground flour, in order to prevent larger pieces from getting stuck in the dies, which extrude the pastas’ shapes. For that reason, the company does the milling mostly on its own. Bouvier says, “If we were going to buy whole-grain flour from a conventional mill, it would be stone-ground — and the stone grinding, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t give us the tiny, tiny powdery flour that we need.”

Opportunities: Bouvier sees her company’s mission as furthering community relationships and raising consciousness about the food she sells: “To work with — directly — the farmers growing our foods sustainably, and using those very special seeds [as a way to] educate people, [thus nurturing] a market for a more biodiverse food system.”

There’s a whole Colorado community with a similar mindset, she says: from farmers like Rocky Draw Farm and Aspen Moon Farm; to bakers like Moxie Bread Co.; to organizations like Colorado Grain Chain and Mad Agriculture; as well as Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, which organizes an annual Grain School seminar.

Needs: While the company currently is self-financed and experiencing organic growth, Bouvier notes, “With money, with more investment, we could grow in different ways.”