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May 1, 2012

The Dish: Al Dente Pasta Company

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Written by: Stefanie Stauffer
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The Al Dente Pasta Company has come a long way since the early days when owner Monique Deschaine would personally make all of the pasta by hand. Nowadays, their locally-famous pastas and sauces are distributed from their small factory in Whitmore Lake to stores across the nation and even in Canada. In fact, their newest “Bona Chia” line of vegan chia seed pastas recently caught the attention of Whole Foods and will soon be hitting the shelves of all their stores in the Midwest. So, although there’s a lot that has changed in Al Dente’s 30 years of business, what hasn’t changed is the true source of their success: the owners’ passion for pasta made the old-fashioned way with high quality, all natural and locally-sourced ingredients.

And that passion is contagious. When we first arrived at Al Dente, we were hit with a smell of durum flour that made us want to immediately eat plate after plate of delicious pasta. We then entered the factory, a veritable pasta dreamworld of spinach fettuccine being carefully-made, packaged and dried on racks all around us. All the pasta is made during the day so that it can dry overnight in custom dryers developed by Monique’s husband Dennis, who also helped design other parts of their production facility. His designs have enabled them to scale up production without sacrificing quality, and you can literally taste that attention to detail in the pasta.

Monique’s mother is from France, so she grew up eating foods made with “fresh, local and in season” ingredients. She also came of age in the food world by working at Complete Cuisine in Ann Arbor the same year that Alice Waters opened the famous locavore restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. Working at Complete Cuisine in the days before Zingerman’s gave her exposure to artisanal foods, high profile chefs and afterhours access to the kitchen in which she made her first pastas. In a word, Monique is a local food pioneer whose business philosophy is rooted in her love of fresh, hand-crafted foods.

And you can taste that love in the high quality ingredients used in all Al Dente pastas. For instance, they source quality ingredients as locally as possible, using wheat from a cooperative in North Dakota and eggs from Michigan or Illinois. They use frozen Michigan spinach (packed with vitamin A and iron) instead of the spinach powder used in most other pastas on the market. More recently, they have also translated that commitment to quality into their line of organic “pasta duets” that pair egg pasta with varieties like mushroom, spinach and squid ink, as well as their whole-wheat pastas with flax seed.

Overall, Al Dente produces 26 varieties of linguine, fettuccine, and pappardelle, and four varieties of pasta sauce. They even have a “carba-nada” line of low-carb/low-sugar pasta that is incredibly popular with diabetics. My current favorite is the “Bona Chia” since the texture is pasta perfect and it is made from an antioxidant-rich ancient grain superfood. I also enjoy the organic duets and, for a change of pasta pace, the spicy sesame linguine. But, really, I like all types of Al Dente pasta, so go taste the local difference for yourself!

Whether your prefer chia, whole wheat, spinach, organic egg and mushroom or spicy sesame, you can pick up Al Dente pastas and sauces at the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative, the People’s Food Cooperative, The Produce Station, Busch’s, Meijer and a host of other local markets. The care they put into the production process, aided by staff members who have worked there for 10 years or longer, explain why Al Dente pastas sell as fast as they are made. And that’s how Monique likes it: “We grew very slowly, very organically, which is why we are probably still in business now vs. so many of the pasta companies that started in 1981. We don’t want to get any bigger. We like it just the way we are.”

More information about Al Dente pasta, philosophy and where to purchase products can be found at






About the Author

Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie is a local food crusader and another awesome member of the iSPY team.

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