We popped on our hairnets, rolled up our sleeves and got up close and personal with Kathryn from The Yorkshire Pasta Company to hear her inspiring story of how she introduced delicious, proper pasta to the UK.
Introduce yourself & tell us a little bit about your business.
I am Kathryn. I founded "The Yorkshire Pasta Company" in 2019 after realising that there was a huge gap in the market for a British pasta - pasta made to a high standard, with British ingredients and not imported and packaged in plastic!
We launched in May 2020 and our pasta can now be found in over 450 farm shops, delis and independents. You can even find it in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
Ultimately we are a small family business comprising three - myself, my sister-in-law, Beth, and our fellow pasta ninja, Gemma. We have a huge passion for artisan pasta, showing the UK the difference between mass manufactured supermarket 'pasta' and beautiful, sustainable, superior pasta!
Where are you based?
We are very lucky to be born and bred in God's own county, Yorkshire, and are based in Yorkshire's foodie capital, Malton.
When did it all begin?
Half-way up a mountain in the Lake District! In March 2019, during a walking holiday, I asked my husband "why do you think no one makes pasta in the UK?"
That was the moment that it all began. That thought seeded itself in my mind and it began to keep me up at night. I began spending evenings and weekend driving around the UK and searching the internet to see if it was true - there was no British pasta.
I found myself making notes and plans whilst I should have been focussing on work projects. I was much more motivated and inspired by pasta than I had been about anything else for some time!
The next step was to travel to Italy to understand how pasta was created and it was at this point that I realised that the pasta available in the UK wasn't a patch on that in Italy - what a difference! And that mass manufactured supermarket stuff was not real pasta! I left my job and knew that I needed to give my all to follow this passion. I was going to set up The Yorkshire Pasta Company.
Why did you start making your product & where did your inspiration come from?
As a farmer’s daughter, I have always had a keen interest in food. We were brought up with an understanding of the provenance of food, the importance of quality and respecting ingredients. We prepared meals together and sat around the kitchen table at every mealtime. For this I am truly grateful. I see now that this is where my love of food has come from.
The thought that there are now families up and down the UK, sitting around their kitchen table, enjoying a meal with Yorkshire pasta gives me an indescribable feeling!
How did you learn your trade?
My husband and I went over to Italy in 2019 to learn from the artisan producers. We travelled down the length of the country, eating lots of pasta (and drinking lots of wine!).
The families over there were so supportive (which, to be honest, I was not expecting) but I guess they liked our passion and wanted to help “a little English girl make proper pasta”! I still have some of them on speed dial now!
Mass-manufactured supermarket pasta is made in two hours. Our authentic methods take two full days. We dry our pasta on wooden racks at low temperatures overnight - for 14 hours. This allows flavour to develop as the dough matures.
Each piece is then "bronze drawn" to give it a rough surface. This is where the magic happens - the rough surface allows sauce to cling to each piece, hugging it and creating a beautiful dish of food.
We then package in striking paper bags, 100% recyclable, and completely plastic free - a sustainable approach to a classic product. We run Yorkshire Pasta HQ on solar energy, are plastic free and all our products are vegan and vegetarian friendly.
What’s your favourite product and why?
I love all five – they are like my babies! Shells make a cracking pasta bake and tortiglioni is amazing with a bolognese. Fusilli makes a great light salad and penne is my go-to for creamy dishes. And then there is mezze - James Martin’s favourite and the one he used when he had us on the show in January 2021 – he made an amazing ragu dish.
What ingredients do you use?
Durum wheat (semolina flour) is typically used for pasta but we didn't want to import anything so we have created our own bespoke blend of wheat flours (now kept as a family secret) all of which milled just down the road. We go and collect it weekly.
We can always guarantee that 70-80% is directly from farmers in Yorkshire, the remainder coming from farmers a little further afield in Lincolnshire and Humberside. This protects us if there is ever a terrible yield or disastrous harvest, such as the wet harvest of 2010.
When your business is your passion, what do you do in your spare time or to give yourself a break?
I am extremely competitive and play field hockey – I adore it and it is great for stress relief!
What’s been the most fun or challenging part of your business?
Big Challenge Number One: Durum wheat. In Italy, pasta has always been made using semolina, a product of durum wheat. So it turns out that durum wheat isn't grown in the UK. There were a few trial crops over time, but with my father a farmer, he knew very well that our British climate didn't allow farmers to get a yield from durum wheat to make it a sufficient crop. But I certainly couldn't import durum wheat from Italy, Germany or the USA and then call my pasta British.
My previous job had been working for Nestle Confectionery developing recipes for wafers and biscuits (think Lion Bar, Breakaway, Drifter). So I knew a thing or two about flour and proteins. I was able to research British flours and create a blend of flour to match the important properties of semolina and began trialling pasta dough recipes.
Big Challenge Number Two: How to dry the pasta to allow for a shelf life and storage? To lock in flavour and quality? If pasta is not dried correctly, any ounce of moisture remaining at the centre of the shape, over time (2-5days) will try and even out across the shape. This leads to cracks in your pasta. Within the week you can physically hear the pasta cracking like rice crispies in milk, snap! crackle! pop! - plus the sound of my tears falling onto the floor! It took months of research and trials, but eventually we mastered the art of drying pasta. Our pasta has a shelf life of 2 years, without the need for preservatives and stabilisers.
Big Challenge Number Three: Plastic free... typically pasta is packaged in plastic. I worked with over 40 packaging suppliers before identifying a solution. And then came the question of how to seal them without solvent glues or plastic tabs... I think we came up with a fabulous solution. Our packaging remains 100% recyclable and we think it looks pretty special too.
Do you have any particular goals or aspirations for 2022/23?
To continue growing our stockist base across independent farm shops and delis. We are in just over 450 but there are 1,000's out there! We are also beginning to work with fabulous chefs in food service and looking to supply more and more high end restaurants.