By Joseph Robertia
For many Alaskans, shopping local is more than just food for thought. A woman from Sterling is hoping her penne will make her more than a few pennies by targeting it to those who want fresher ingredients while supporting the local economy.
“If you’ve ever tried homemade pasta, it has a fresh flavor,” said Rosie Reutov, owner of Rosie’s Pasta.
Reutov got her start by sticking close to her mother while she prepared meals for the family.
“My mother taught me when I was very young. I was always in the kitchen when she was cooking,” Reutov said.
By 10 years old, Reutov could make her own pasta by hand. Over the next few decades she continued to build her culinary skills and two years ago began marketing her pasta close to home, in her tiny, tight-knit Russian community.
“It was out of the way to go to stores in town, and Russians like to make and eat their own foods,” she said.
Reutov quickly developed a steady clientele, so she wondered if others might be interested in her products, made from basic, wholesome ingredients, such as water, farm-fresh eggs and semolina flour — a durum wheat flour that is higher in protein than all-purpose flour, and considered by some to be better for pasta than softer flours.
“I wanted to get bigger and see how far I could go,” Reutov said.
So she bought a commercial pasta maker for her Department of Environmental Conservation-approved kitchen and began turning out much more product.
“I can do 300 pounds on the average a week, and if I need to I can make 600 pounds,” she said. She makes a variety of pasta types, including linguine, angel hair, fettuccine and shells. Reutov also does flavors, such as spinach and basil.
“All the pasta is air dried on racks. I don’t mist it or put any moisture on it. I just air dry it slowly,” she said.
This method provides better flavor, she said, as well as a different finished-cooking consistency compared to store-bought brands that, once cooked, can seem soft and slimy even after precisely following the directions.
Reutov expanded away from home at various farmer’s markets in 2013 and 2014.
“It was fun. I got good results, so started trying to get it in stores,” she said.
Now her product is carried by Save-U-More, Three Bears, A & M Fabric in Homer, Stephanie’s in Razdolna (30 miles east of Homer), as well as Chic Couture and Donna’s in Wasilla. She also does special and bulk orders from her Rosie’s Pasta Facebook page.
Heidi Chay, district manager for the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, said that she knew Rosie’s Pasta was getting popular after she wrote a post about it on the Kenai Local Food page.
“(It) got an eye-popping 3,696 ‘Likes,’” she said.
Chay explained she believes people get excited about products like Rosie’s Pasta, or Alaska Flour Company’s pancake mix, because there aren’t many made-in-Alaska food products available that are shelf stable and commonly used in cooking, Chay said. Products like these are a sign that Alaska is moving in the direction of greater variety of local foods and food self-sufficiency, she said.
“The real test is if consumers not only ‘like’ a cool photo on Facebook, but if they actually buy and use it. You’ve probably heard it before, but if every Alaskan spent an average of $5 per week on Alaska Grown food year-round, it would generate an additional $188 million in farm income that would circulate within the Alaskan economy, rather than go elsewhere. Five dollars a week is a doable, and it’s an investment in Alaska’s future,” she said.
More Alaskans are doing just that every year, Chay said, motivated by desires to increase food security at the local and state level, to buy fresh, healthy food from a known source, and to eat simpler, whole foods that don’t have unpronounceable ingredients.
“There is no doubt the local food movement is growing in Alaska,” Chay said. “From 2007 to 2012, we saw a 60 percent increase in the number of Alaska farms selling food direct to consumers, and a 110 percent increase right here on the Kenai Peninsula. We’ve seen steady expansion since then in the number and size of farmers markets, the number of people attending community events, like Harvest Moon Local Food Week, and the number of people actively participating in online forums devoted to local food. The Alaska Farm and Food page on Facebook, for example, has over 8,300 members,” she said.
For Rosie’s Pasta, Reutov hopes to continue feeding the local foods economy, with feeding her customers.
“I’m still hoping to grow bigger, get into restaurants, too. I’m looking into more around the area,” she said.
It’s hard work and requires many long days in the kitchen, but Reutov said she plans on sticking with her pasta-making profession.
“I enjoy doing it,” she said.