Whitefish’s Organic Pasta Purveyor

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Jeff Russell is proud of his pasta machine. And he should be. It is, without being hyperbolic, a life-changing apparatus.

From years of toiling in his home kitchen, Russell knows how to make pasta. But he can’t make it like his machine can make it, although the device requires its owner’s expertise to perform at full potential.

Imported from Italy, Russell’s new toy can do everything: knead the dough, cut all shapes and sizes of pasta and even fill the ravioli. It was worth the wait.

“It took four months just to get it here,” Russell said.

Besides the variety of pastas, the Great Northern Pasta Co. offers an assortment of gourmet food items including a number of olive oils open and ready for tasting.

Russell opened the doors to Great Northern Pasta Company on Lupfer Avenue in Whitefish in November. Already, he has a steady stream of dedicated regulars and curious first-timers. Those first-timers have a tendency to become regulars.

Great Northern Pasta Company’s sign on Lupfer is adorned with the word “Pastificio,” which Russell said essentially translates from Italian as “the place where pasta is made.” And a special kind of pasta is made at this particular pastificio.

Russell uses locally derived ingredients when available and is currently working on obtaining his organic certification from the Montana Department of Agriculture. He uses three primary flours: durum semolina, durum fancy patent and whole wheat durum. All three are certified organic. The semolina and whole wheat are milled in Montana and the patent is from North Dakota. The eggs come from Mission Mountain Organic Eggs out of Ronan.

Making pasta, Russell said, is a “fairly simple process – flour, eggs and water.” But making really good pasta isn’t as simple, particularly when a wide variety of noodles are requested at a large scale. That’s where the machine comes in, though Russell and his one other employee needed time to learn the tricky contraption. Meghan Holder also runs the machine and tends to the front desk.

Russell and Holder have learned how to get the pasta they desire: with proper moisture levels, in the appropriate size and with just the right mix of human experimentation and machine precision.

Assorted packages of pasta are seen stored in the back of the kitchen waiting to be sold at the Great Northern Pasta Co. in Whitefish.

“When everything goes right, it’s a wonderful thing,” Russell said. “To me, it’s still pretty magical.”

Ravioli is the most difficult, Russell said. Two separate sheets of noodle must be made, then stuffed with a selected filling and cut into consistent shapes, tasks the machine can only perform with the knowledgeable guidance of humans.

“Now that we’ve figured out how to make the ravioli, we’re focused on making the fillings now,” Russell said.

The most popular ravioli filling is goat cheese. In what Russell calls his company’s “signature” pasta, this ravioli is filled with goat’s milk ricotta from Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade.

“People keep coming back to get it,” Russell said, adding, “but we sell a lot of the other products.”

Among the Great Northern Pasta Company’s other products are butternut squash ravioli, spaghetti, penne rigate, pappardelle, regular and spinach fettucine, fusilli, linguini, and spinach and mushroom ravioli. They generally come in 11-ounce containers, enough to feed two to three adults.

Great Northern Pasta Company has a retail store – the Pastificio location on Lupfer – and also sells its products at a couple of local markets. Russell said the restaurant Naked Noodle uses his fettucine. Eventually, Russell’s goal is to sell his products wholesale, both locally and regionally.

The retail store also has a small gourmet market, with items such as pasta sauces, kalamata olives, roasted peppers, capers, pestos, coffees, balsamic vinegars, sundried tomatoes and lots of olive oils. There is a tasting bar where customers can sample different olive oils. Russell is hoping to someday sell wine as well.

Jeff Russell, left, passes Sue Ricklefs her pasta at Great Northern Pasta Co. in Whitefish.

Other treats include salamis, prosciuttos, pancettas and dessert items such as Cantucci d’Abruzzo almond cookies. Among the cheeses sold are parmigiano reggiano and ricotta salata. Even garlic and lemon are available.

“We try to have all of the things you need for most traditional Italian dishes,” Russell said.

A self-proclaimed “recovering computer software engineer,” Russell is obviously enjoying his new career as a pastificio practitioner. He hopes the community enjoys it too.

“When I moved here I wanted to do something more local and more tied to the community,” Russell said. “This has been working out.”

Great Northern Pasta Company can be reached at (406) 862-7300.

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