29 June 2023

From farm to plate: foodie's premium pasta idea cooked up in lockdown

| Siobhan O'Brien
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smiling man in factory

Wholesaler, distributor and food-loving entrepreneur Jesse Hegg developed a range of premium dried pasta during the pandemic. Photo: Supplied.

South Nowra isn’t known for picturesque landscapes. The reputation that proceeds one of the largest towns in New South Wales is an environment of warehouses, industrial initiatives and one of the biggest Bunnings stores you’ve ever seen.

But looks can deceive. Behind the closed roller door of one of the town’s backstreet buildings, something extraordinary is on the boil.

The shelves that line the walls inside the Locale Foods headquarters in Norfolk Avenue are stacked with gourmet products with a sustainable bent – Alto olive oil, Murray River Salt, La Tortilleria and such. But the business isn’t open to the public. It distributes the aforementioned items to restaurants and eateries from Sydney to the South Coast and beyond. It’s been doing it for decades. But the noteworthy thing is the more recent entrepreneurial endeavour within this hub.

Duro Pasta – a premium product that’s manufactured from Australian-grown wheat – is crafted, dried and packaged here. Not only that, it’s increasingly regarded by those in the know as an alternative to imported Italian goods of a similar ilk.

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Locale Foods and Duro Pasta managing director Jesse Hegg says the concept for his sustainable product was kickstarted by the pandemic.

“The food industry was brought to a halt during COVID but it forced me to think outside the square,” he says.

”I’m a chef by trade and I had always sought to create my own products. But I was also on a mission to support locally grown, natural and sustainable ingredients. I looked into beer, ice cream and cheese production. But it was when I researched pasta that I realised I was onto something.”

Doubtless, Jesse’s research led him to Italian traditions, recipes and production methods. But it was the large volume of harvested wheat grain imported by these European producers that rang alarm bells.

plate of pasta

Duro Pasta is crafted, dried and packaged in South Nowra and is regarded as a sustainable alternative to Italian products of a similar ilk. Photo: Supplied.

“While some durum wheat is grown in Italy, the scale of production is so large they simply cannot produce enough domestically to accommodate the demand,” Jesse says.

”They not only import the bulk of the wheat, but then they export the finished product around the globe. The carbon footprint is massive.”

The next step for Jesse was importing pasta-making equipment, specialised dryers and experimenting with drying methods. When the restrictions were lifted, he went to Italy and gained hands-on experience.

plate of pasta

Duro Pasta is slow-dried at low temperatures to preserve the flavour and integrity of the wheat. Photo: Supplied.

Then he sourced the best local wheat grain he could get his hands on. He settled on farmers in and around Bellata in northern New South Wales. These growers use sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation and methods to minimise the impact on the soil and reduce erosion. The grain is harvested, stored in silos and milled at a facility in nearby Tamworth.

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“I was determined to create a product that’s manufactured locally using only locally grown ingredients, which supports Australian farmers and industries,” Jesse said.

”Not only does my pasta taste great, it’s good for the environment. I suppose we have to thank the lockdown for something.”

For more information, visit www.duropasta.com.au or phone 1300 313 322.

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