The Pasta King of the Mountain West

Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer, May 1996

At the turn of the century Antonio Ferro opened a small store on West Second South in Salt Lake City where he sold groceries and tobacco products. In March 1905 the budding entrepreneur married Giovannina Calfa and soon thereafter launched the Western Macaroni Manufacturing Company. Eventually marketed under the “Queen’s Taste” label, no less than 45 different varieties of pasta products would be manufactured by Ferro and his associates. It seems that long before pasta dishes became trendy items on restaurant menus in Utah the state had a pasta king.

Ferro was born in southern Italy on October 22, 1872, to Carmine and Angela Perri Ferro. The family owned a large farm. He attended the local schools and later a normal school, but in 1894 he left Italy for America. Like many of his countrymen he found work in mining, first in Pennsylvania and then in Colorado and Mercur, Utah. After working for more than a year and a half in Mercur, he left the mines and moved permanently to Salt Lake City. He managed the macaroni factory until his retirement in 1942 due to failing health. He died on August 29, 1944. Ferro was active in the Commercial Club, the Utah Manufacturers Association, several fraternal organizations—including the Sons of Italy—and the Catholic church. He and his wife had three children.

A detailed report of the factory published in the Utah Payroll Builder in 1927 provides information on the scope of the business and the factory’s operation. Ferro’s company employed about 25 workers and had a daily capacity of six tons of various macaroni products, although at the time producing only five tons. The factory reportedly furnished “most of the macaroni supplied to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada,” with large quantities also shipped to Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. “Queen’s Taste” products were also marketed in British Columbia for a number of years until the Canadian government began to tax imported wheat products.

The 45 varieties of pasta produced at the plant ranged from acino-pepe to ziti and came in shapes resembling shells, stars, oats, and letters of the alphabet as well as various sizes and cuts of tubular pasta, flat noodles of various kinds, and an array of spaghetti-like types. The Payroll Builder writer seemed dazzled by the thought that the five tons of macaroni products manufactured daily would, if made into one long piece of the common tubular variety, “reach farther than from Logan to Provo.” The guide at the factory said that Utah’s Greeks especially liked the small orzo pasta while Italians preferred spaghetti.

The Western Macaroni factory used Utah eggs and Turkey Red flour made from wheat produced on Utah and Idaho dry farms, but 80 percent of the flour used came from the harder durum wheat grown in Minnesota. The large mixers in the factory used 300 pounds of flour at a time. The stiff dough or paste moved from mixer to kneading machine to pressing machines where the various types of pasta were extruded. Racks of pasta were then taken to one of the many drying rooms for 36 to 40 hours. The drying process, critical to quality of the finished product, was monitored by hydrometers and supervised day and night by a worker who used dampers and fans to control the speed of drying so that the pasta would be neither tough nor brittle. Packers placed the finished product into packages, boxes, and barrels for shipping to stores, hotels, and restaurants in the city and throughout the Intermountain Area.

In calling his product “Queen’s Taste,” Ferro was clearly exercising his prerogative as the pasta king of the Mountain West.

Sources: Utah Payroll Builder 16 (1927); Noble Warrum, Utah Since Statehood (Chicago, 1919), vol. 3; Salt Lake Tribune, August 30, 1944.