Bayview Pasta isn’t noodling around
Joshua Felciano points to a thick pair of millstones the size of wine-barrel hoops, stacked in the belly of a tall gristmill. “This here is 800 pounds of Vermont granite,” he says.
The Sonoma County native and owner of Bayview Pasta, a fresh-pasta manufacturer in San Francisco, hand-mills flour from sun-ripened wheat berries grown on a fifth-generation family farm in Eastern Washington while we talk. The drought-tolerant grains were dry-farmed leeward of the Cascade Mountains, he notes, raised strictly on a diet of rain, snow and nutrient-rich, untilled soil.
“But did they lead happy lives?” snarky Portlandia fans may be tempted to ask, and Felciano readily acknowledges the satirical overtones. Actually, the grains lead a parched, somewhat stressful existence—but that makes for tastier pasta, he says, as low moisture concentrates flavor and gluten.
Who knew? Wheat may be America’s third-largest crop and as flour, a pantry essential, but we’re more attuned to the origins of our syrah than to the source of our spaghettoni. Felciano, however, digs a deeper plow-to-fork connection by bringing the story of pasta full circle—back to where the grain comes from, how it is grown and when it was milled. And he challenges the Bay Area’s relationship to a culinary staple by crafting fresh, whole-grain pasta that’s less about the sauce and more about complex flavor, rich texture and higher nutrients.
“Pasta’s part of my heritage,” Felciano says. He grew up in a “boisterous Italian-American family” from Healdsburg. And as a former sous-chef, working with flour has always been central to his livelihood; he cut his teeth at Manzanita, moving onto Simi Winery before landing at Delfina. But he admits, flashing an affable grin and beefy, dough-pounding forearms, that he gave little thought to the refined Italian semolina that used to dust his workplace.
When Felciano established Bayview Pasta in 2017, he initially bought wheat on Amazon—free Prime delivery!—from a small grain company in Utah. It was located about an 11-hour drive from San Francisco, so he called it on a whim. Could he check out their mill, maybe visit their farm?
“We couldn’t tell you where the grain’s from,” he was told. “It’s all commodity [that gets] thrown into a community silo.” It was a stark realization—“we were so far from the story of where our [grain] comes from, so far from the field, so far from the farmer,” he said.
Humans have cultivated wheat since the dawn of civilization and grown it in the Western United States since the early 18th century. It’s a large—but also a largely forgotten—part of California’s agricultural legacy; the state once produced much of the nation’s supply, until dairy, produce and nuts supplanted it in the mid-1900s.
“Growing grain is the missing part of the food revolution,” says Alex Weiser, co-founder of the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project. The small collective of farmers set out to re-establish a sustainable grain belt in Southern California eight years ago. On a patchwork of fields 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, they grow heirloom wheat like King Desert durum, Red Fife and spelt, along with Oaxacan dent corn—hardy, regenerative crops with disease- and drought-resistant pedigrees.
Felciano recalls his first visit there with his wife; they joined Weiser and gang in harvesting purple corn, and ended up geeking out with them on grain. “These farmers were sitting around, showing and asking each other about their plantings, like ‘Where’s this one from? Why are you growing it? Who’s it for?’” Felciano says.
The deep connection they had to their fields, crops and farming practices was a revelation. “I could come back to San Francisco and say, ‘I know the person who grew this grain. I know why it works well, why it’s so different from a bag of King Arthur [flour],’” he says. “And it was all happening right there in this cornfield.”
It’s 6am, and the sun casts a warm glow across the Bay in front of the Hunter’s Point Shipyard. Felciano grinds away in the commissary kitchen where Bayview Pasta is based—has been since 4am—milling plump, hard red wheat berries grown in the Horse Heaven Hills of Prosser, Wash. As he pours them into a spout, the mill roars into action, drowning out the chorus to Volare streaming in the background. The grains pulverize into a stream of silky, amber flour speckled with golden hints of their former selves, releasing the malty aroma of toasted oats.
Encased in a fire-engine-red steel frame, Felciano’s workhorse is a slick take on a classic piece of machinery. But it serves a basic purpose: it grinds the entirety of the grain, integrating the bran, germ and endosperm into whole flour. And the massive granite millstones manage to stay cool, effectively preserving the grain’s aromatic oils, nutrients and flavor.
Industrial mills operate differently, using steel rollers to crack and separate the bran and germ from the endosperm, Felciano says. Refined flour is then milled uniquely from this gluten-rich core—very shelf stable and great for making toothy pasta, he notes, but void of fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. “So when you buy a sack of flour in the store,” he says, “you have no idea how old it is.”
Fresh, whole flour, on the other hand, has a shelf life of about a week, but Felciano never lets it sit for more than a day. He quickly moves onto the next step of mixing the hard red with other fresh flours including spelt, Red Fife and Desert durum from Tehachapi. With the scantest addition of water, the flour blend turns it into a crumbly dough, which, when squished, is cohesive yet surprisingly light. The rich oils give it the consistency of egg pasta without the eggs, with fuller nutrients, taste and texture.
The morning pace picks up as Felciano’s three employees set up their individual stations. Each one extrudes a different kind of pasta; one rhythmically chops wide, stubby tubes of rigatoni that curl out of a traditional bronze die, while another slices ropes of bucatini, twisting them into nests with a flick of the wrist.
Other items on today’s docket: fettuccine tinted sage-green with nettles, brilliantly yellow turmeric spaghettoni and pappardelle, which Felciano makes by hand-feeding flattened dough through a pasta cutter. The wide, hearty ribbons are his favorite, he says, tossed with “just butter and parm[igiano-reggiano].”
The rich and robust flavor of the pasta, in fact, favors simplicity. Causwell’s, a bistro-style restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District, rotates its offering of Bayview’s pasta every few weeks; currently it’s spaghettoni paired with a tomato-braised pork ragù and sprinkles of English peas and spring onions. It highlights the taste and texture of the pasta, with tender shreds of meat clinging to the thick strands without drowning them, all accented by a pop of fresh greens and pecorino cheese.
“The pasta has a really nice tooth to it—you can tell the quality of the grain,” says Chef Adam Rosenblum. And it’s in line with Causwell’s fresh-and-local ethos: “We make everything from scratch, so if I’m getting something from somewhere else, it needs to be of the same caliber and craftsmanship.”
The quality of the pasta, as Rosenblum points out, is sown in the grain itself—and that’s every bit the craft for Garrett Moon, of Moon Family Farm in Prosser, Wash. The fifth-generation farm grows “grain with big flavor and a small carbon footprint”—drought-tolerant heritage wheats like hard red, hard white and spelt—on 2,400 unirrigated and untilled acres.
Relying solely on precipitation and soil management, the farm avoids the energy costs and impacts of pumping water from aquifers or rivers, Moon says. But it faces increasingly steep challenges: the region, located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, is the driest in the state, and 10% of normal spring rainfall this year is putting a sobering strain on yields.
Artisan producers like Felciano “understand that we put a lot of extra effort into our grain, land and conservation efforts—things that aren’t recognized in a commodity market,” he says. “So we try to make connections with people who care about the same things, who appreciate wheat done right.”
It’s clearly a kindred connection. As Felciano boxes up the morning batch of fresh pasta, he points to a message printed on every label, below the stamped mill date of the flour: “We buy our grains directly from the farm that grew the grain.”
The boxes of pasta stack up by late morning, awaiting delivery to stores and restaurants around the Bay Area. The farthest, Felciano notes, is Big John’s Market in Healdsburg, where he held his first job as a teenager. “It’s the only place where I’ve been hired, fired, then rehired,” he says. It’s yet another wholesome loop in the story of his pasta.