Braibanti history

The Braibanti Pasta Factory at Valera

Ubaldo Delsante

Immediately after the Unification of Italy, the magistrate and notary public Giuseppe Braibanti[1], a figure known in town by the affectionate nickname of Peppo, owned a mill at Valera, on a branch of the Naviglio Taro canal, whose waters then flowed into the Abbeveratoia hollow and further north merged with those of the Galasso canal. The Naviglio Taro was an extremely ancient waterway and may have been built before the year 1000. Originally, it derived from the Taro River at Ozzano, then over the centuries the right bank was eroded and the current inlet at Oppiano was built. It followed the road from the Taro ford, connected in summer between Collecchiello and the Noceto zone and Medesano, and led to town through Vicofertile.
There were a number of mills located along the canal, including the one that belonged to Braibanti who appears to have entrusted it to a tenant, called Resega.
It was a very ancient mill. An early 17th  century map and various surveys performed by Smeraldo Smeraldi (1553-1634), an engineer from Parma, indicated it simply as a mill, with the names of the owners or tenants.
Nevertheless, all the other maps dating from the end of that century and of the following one, indicate the place as Pista della polvere [Pounding of Gunpowder], indicating that gunpowder was produced there, a rather profitable business at the time, since it enjoyed a monopoly granted by the Duke of Parma.
Of course the grinding system differed from that used for cereals. The hydraulic wheel received a rotating impulse and transmitted it to an octagonal-section tree shaft attached to wooden fixtures, called rams.
The rams turned together with the shaft and forcefully moved the vertical beams called pestles up and down over bowls that held blocks of charcoal, which were thus crumbled and reduced to dust.
The ground charcoal, then mixed with sulfur and saltpeter in precise proportions and with due care to avoid undesired explosions,  was made into gunpowder.
We do not know if this activity, which at first sight would appear to be incompatible with the milling of cereals, was an alternative one or coexisted with it, perhaps taking place in adjacent but separate rooms.
It is known, however, that in other milling districts around the city, like Mariano and especially Mulini Bassi (Lowlands Mills), the activity of grinding wheat was carried along in parallel with that of sawing wood, making paper, textile fabrics,  and other types of mill work, seeing that several hydraulic wheels could be installed on the waterfalls of the canals[2].
Since gunpowder production had been in critical condition from the early 1800s and in the Parma district it was restricted to the Montechiarugolo plant, it is probable that the Valera mill was restored to its original activity of  grinding  cereals.
In a map conserved in the archives of the Society of  the Naviglio Taro Canal, drawn in about 1911, the mill appears still under the caption denomination of Resega, and alongside of it there appears to have been installed a concrete bed or gate for extracting water to irrigate the fields that existed here at that time, which have now been mostly absorbed into the build up of the urban area.
Nowadays, the building that was the mill has been transformed and included in an Art Noveau Style[3] building, so it is no longer recognizable – it serves as pasta factory’s offices and dwellings.
Until not many decades ago, the area just at the bottom of the valley of the mill hosted a plant utilized to cook bones, and finalized to the production of soap and perhaps also of candles and wind torches, and therefore called ossèra (bone place) [4].
The above mentioned Giuseppe Braibanti, who had no heirs, adopted an orphan, Ennio Enniopi, born on September 15, 1860 and left at the Misericordia  (Mercy) Hospital by a widow who lived in the city, in the Borgo Retto neighborhood.
Understanding that the child was intellectually gifted, he sent him to school to pursue higher education.
Ennio Braibanti, as this was now his name,  graduated in Engineering and was able to apply his expertise to a specific branch of his father’s properties: the Braibanti pasta factory installed in the old Valera mill.
Mentioned for the first time in the bulletins of the Chamber of Commerce in 1870 – as this is the date conventionally recognized as the beginning of the activity of the pasta factory, but it could very well be a terminus ante quem – the Pasta Factory grew and became bigger under the guidance of Ennio, who will give the company its social name.
In 1890, at the time that the Department of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce carried out a survey, the company did not result to be listed among the industries mentioned as already making use of mechanically-run devices, so it can be presumed that manufacturing was still performed by hand. In 1910 it was producing 1000 kilograms of pasta a day, with fifteen employees and was selling it mostly in the provinces of Piacenza, Brescia and Verona.
In 1912 Braibanti began also to produce fresh pasta and to market it in the provinces of Cremona and the Veneto region as well[5] .
The production machines were powered by a hydroelectric implant, probably derived in some manner from the existing mill. Plant development is proven by the fact that in 1919 it requested registration with the fire brigade’s fire-fighting service.

The name of engineer Ennio Braibanti (Parma, 9.15.1860 – 21.23.1898), son of Giuseppe, was listed in the Registry of the Chamber of Commerce beginning from 1895 and, from 1899, that of his wife Margherita Finella (Parma, 2.5.1871 – 7.25.1943) was also found there.
Engineer Braibanti also became involved in construction work and was a Democratic-Republican member of the town council as well as councilor for public works from 1889-96[6]. The two sons born of the marriage of Ennio Braibanti and Margherita Finella, Mario and Giuseppe, both graduated with a degree in Engineering and began an activity as project designers for industrial pasta machines in Milan.
Widowed when she was only 27, Margherita soon remarried a surveyor named Umberto Pizzetti (Parma, 4.24.1878 – 7.7.1953), with whom she had children, and to this branch of the family went the task to bring forth the operations of the pasta factory, which nonetheless kept the original name of Engineer Ennio Braibanti, and remained in its original location and occupied the same rooms that were remodeled several times, in the old mill of Valera. This at first was marked as being located in Volturno street, at number 41, and now at street number 61.
In the Commercial Guide of 1931, the advertising page for the pasta factory includes a drawing at the bottom where the plant appears to be already well-developed, with three factory buildings, each three stories high above the ground, and  two lower, longer buildings and a courtyard where moving carts and vehicles are depicted[7]
Few documents have survived from the period that goes up to World War II; only occasional production and employee data is known and this does not make it possible to map out a business trend through time. There is no doubt that the Braibanti pasta factory always sought to specialize in the production of high quality food for an elite of customer, presented in sophisticated and elegant packaging to be sold mainly in other towns. The factory had an store front in the city, located at 28, Via Farini.
The gold medal and diploma of the 1927 Tripoli fair are still kept, together with a catalog of the production for those years, and a calendar where the logo of the brand is represented by a girl with a red rose on her forehead: a beautiful portrait, very alluring and appealing[8]

In later years, the company resorted to various famous advertising poster artists  [Luciano Bonacini (1908-1981), Giorgio Tabet (1904-2002), Gian Rossetti (1920-1984)] for the creation an apparatus of advertising campaigns. The texts of the recipe books were written by Parmesan writer Mario Gandini, who was a contributor to the national newspaper Corriere della Sera.
In the catalog in use during the time between the two wars[9],several pasta formats can be found (called gnocco, abissini, noccioline, mughetto, pipetta), which not only refer to colonial victories or to flowers (almost as if referring to perfumes, hence alluding to sophistication), but to the decorative elements in use in architectural design in that era above all.
The catalog mentioned above was for the use of salesmen and of company representatives and listed cut pasta, long pasta, pasta nests, pasta sheets (which made it quicker for housewives to prepare tortellini, cappelletti and other filled pasta), very fine special pasta formats and elegant packaging made of cloth and paper bags that the company tried to promote in an era where the law had not yet prohibited the rather unhygienic sale of loose pasta.
By using the machines designed by the Milan studio of the Braibanti brothers, that were manufactured in large part in the Barbieri mechanical shops of Parma, in the 1930’s the pasta factory was able to equip itself with a  modern continuous production line, in which the old kneading troughs and presses were eliminated and operations became automated, including the rolling of the pasta on frames to dry, which was previously a hand operation. The production almost reached the quantity of 15.000 kilograms of pasta per day.

From 1946 to 1947 and again in the late 1960s, the plant was expanded and modernized several times. Production organization was developed on two floors: production and packaging on the first floor, with storage and dispatch on the ground floor. In the 1950s, production was about 40.000/50.000 kilograms per day, doubling in the 1970s.
Of the production, 40% was sold in Italy and the rest went abroad, especially to Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Norway and the Far East. In 1952 in Parma, in collaboration between the pasta factory and the design studios, the Braibanti Experimental Center was founded with the purpose of carrying on research on raw materials and technologies, and with the aim to improve the quality of production and to guarantee the hygiene standards of the product. This center was later moved to Rovereto.

In 1987 the Pizzetti family decided to sell the company, which then became part of the Barilla Group[10]



[1] Giuseppe Braibanti was magistrate of San Pancrazio: Court Almanac of the year MDCCCLII (1852) , Parma, Royal Printing Works, 1852, p. 385; from the same Almanac  we learn that Enrico Braibanti was vice praetor of the Southern Parma Court of Magistrates (p. 383) and Luigi Braibanti was tax collector of Vigatto  (p. 522); in 1842 two Braibanti twin sisters took part in a performace at the Ducal Theater of Colorno: CIRANI Paola, Musica e spettacolo a Colorno tra XVI e XIX secolo (Music and Entertainment in Colorno between the XVI and XVII century), Parma,  Zara, 1995, pp. 104, 119. Therefore they were a family of the bourgeoisie close to the Court of the Dukes.

[2] On the mill at Valera which was then called “Gunpowder Trail” see the following maps S. Smeraldi, The course of the Naviglio Taro canal, May 20, 1618, Historical Archives of the City; anon. XVII century, Plan of the canals of the City of Parma, Parma State Archives, collection of Maps and Drawings, vol. 12 n. 75; see also the maps of the battle of S. Peter, of June 29, 1734 in the collection of the Cassa di Risparmio di Parma e Piacenza.

In a report of the beginning of the 1800s written during the transition from the Congregation of Cavamenti (of Diggers) and the new Office for Waters and Roads, it is confirmed the minor importance of the  Pista della Polve (sic) (Gunpowder Trail), which still belonged at the time to the Chamber of the Duchy and received its water from the Naviglio Taro canal. In the same document it is suggested that the water of the Baganzale canal be utilized in the case in which the Naviglio Taro canal water would be insufficient, but this was done without insisting too much about it, because of the production crises of the mill.  The Baganzale canal passed under the Naviglio Taro canal thanks to a special conduit in proximity of Pista della Polve: Library of Deputy of National History for the Provinces of Parma,  MSS 15.

[3] MARCHESELLI Tiziano, Le strade di Parma (The streets of Parma), III, Parma, Benedettina, 1990, p. 220. The widening and transformation of the building took place in the 1930s, based on the project of Engineer Giorgio Levi of Milan, and the remodeling was done by the R.E. Colla Brothers of Parma building company, under the technical direction of Engineer Giuseppe Braibanti, as it can be seen from the building license that Mayor Mario Mantovani issued on March 21, 1932. The design of the perspective corresponds to the current situation: Historical Archives of the Town,  Building permits, 1932.

[4] It could be a similar milling factory that is indicated as standing before 1880. «A few years ago, in the proximity of Parma, an artificial manure factory was built where all of the bones that arrived from the city were ground: but the lack of request forced the manufacturers to forego this business venture»: BARBUTI Francesco, Monografia dell’agricoltura parmense (A monograph of agriculture in Parma) , Parma, Tip. G. Ferrari, 1880, p. 84.

[5] Notizie ed osservazioni sullo svolgimento del Commercio e delle Industrie nel Distretto della Camera di Commercio e d’Arti della provincia di Parma (News and observations on the trends of Commerce and Industries in the District of the Chamber of Commerce and Arts in the province of Parma), Parma, 1911, p. 29; Fabbricazione delle paste alimentari (The production of pasta), in Bulletin of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Parma d, n. 8, August 1913, p. 7; Il pastificio Braibanti (The Braibanti Pasta Factory), in «Corridoni nel XXVI annuale della morte», n.s., Parma, Tip. G. Ferrari & F., 1941, p. 44; CORTELLINI Luigi, Parma. Industria e commercio (Parma, Industry and commerce), Parma, Ed. Lodi, 1953, p. 10; CAPRA Rita, L’industria a Parma (1860-1915) (The industry in Parma (1860 – 1915), I, in «Parma Realtà», 14 (1972), p. 53; Profilo della Braibanti (A profile of Braibanti), in «Parma Economica», June 1980, pp. 53-59; BARBUTI Patrizia, La formazione dell’industria nel Parmense (The birth of industry in the Parma area), thesis, University of Parma, Commerce and Economics Department, year 1981/1982, thesis coordinator SAVI Franco, pp. 79, 80; CORETTI M.F., La Braibanti di Parma. Da 112 anni prospera controcorrente (Braibanti of Parma, 112 years Braibanti of Parma is prosperous usptream), in Panificazione & Pasticceria, Milan, (12)1983, pp. 69-75; SAGUATTI Alessandro, Le origini della formazione di un polo agro-alimentare nella provincia di Parma (The origins of the birth of an agricultural and food center in the province of Parma), in «Parma Economica», 2 (1994), p. 26; Id, Parma fra le due guerre nel quadro delle vicende economiche nazionali (Parma between the two wars in the perspective of the national economic events) , Ibidem, p. 41; PERGREFFI Iacopo, L’industria del pomodoro a Parma tra la fine dell’Ottocento e la seconda guerra mondiale (The tomato industry in Parma between the end of the 1800s and World War II) , Reggio E, Tecnograf, 1994, p. 37; SALTINI Antonio, Tra terra e mare la capitale del commercio alimentare (Between land and sea the capital of food commerce), Bologna, Avenue Media, 1994, pp. 40, 85, 89; PRETI Alberto, Processi di industrializzazione in Emilia e in Romagna nell’ultimo ventennio dell’Ottocento (Industrialization process in Emilia Romagna during the last twenty years of the 1800s), in Fondazione “Andrea Costa”, Le elezioni del 1889 e le amministrazioni popolari in Emilia-Romagna (The 1889 elections and the popular administration in Emilia Romagna), Torriana (Fo), Sapignoli ed., 1995, p. 24; DELSANTE Ubaldo, Un insediamento produttivo secolare del Parmense: il mulino, poi pastificio Braibanti di Valera (A centuries old  production complex of the Parma area: the mill, then Braibanti pasta factory of Valera) , in «Parma Economica», 3 (1995), pp. 57-60; FARINELLI Leonardo, PELOSI Gianluca and UCCELLI Gianfranco, Cento anni di associazionismo industriale a Parma. Ricerca e analisi (One hundred years of industrial association in Parma. Research and analysis), Parma, Silva Ed., 1996; GONIZZI Giancarlo (curated by), Parma anni Cinquanta. Avvenimenti Atmosfere Personaggi (Parma in the 1950s. Noteworthy facts, Atmospheres and Characters), catalog of the exhibit, Parma, PPS ed., Artegrafica Silva, 1997, pp. 130, 142-143; MARCHESELLI Fabrizio e Tiziano, Dizionario dei Parmigiani, (Dictionary of Parma People) Parma, Tip. Benedettina, 1997, pp. 69, 250; DALL’ACQUA Marzio (curated by), Enciclopedia di Parma. Dalle origini ai giorni nostri (Encyclopedia of Parma from the origins to our days) , Milano, FMR, 1998, pp. 173-174, 176, 541; RE Stefania, Dottoresse o amabili donnine? Istituzioni scolastiche a Parma e ruolo sociale delle donne (Women doctors, or lovely little ladies? The school institutes in Parma and the social role of women), Parma, Battei, 1999, p. 28; SERVENTI Silvano e SABBAN Françoise, La pasta. Storia e cultura di un cibo universale (The Pasta. History and culture of a universal food), Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2000, p. 199; VANIN Monica, Vita economica e sociale a Parma tra pace e guerra (1937-1943) . Percorso critico tra fonti d’archivio e documenti di costume (Economic and social life in Parma between peace and war (1937 – 1943). A critical evaluation based on archive sources and documentation of costumes), in «Storia e Documenti», n. 6, Parma, Grafiche Step, 2001, pp. 43, 58.

[6] SORBA Carlotta, L’eredità delle mura (The inheritance of the walls), Venezia, Marsilio, 1993, pp. 114, 191, 193, 233; GIUFFREDI Massimo, Le elezioni del 1889 a Parma: gruppi, programmi, uomini (The elections of 1889 in Parma: groups, programs and men), in Fondazione “Andrea Costa”, Le elezioni del 1889 e le amministrazioni popolari in Emilia-Romagna (The elections of 1889 and the peoples’ administration in Emilia-Romagna), cit., pp. 378, 394.

[7] PELICELLI Nestore, Guida commerciale di Parma e Provincia (Commercial guide to Parma and its province). Parma, Fresching, 1913, p. 241; LASAGNI Roberto, Dizionario biografico dei Parmigiani (Biographical dictionary of the people of Parma), III, Parma, PPS, Grafiche Step, 1999, p. 968.

[8] Among the awards that came in more recent times that testify to the quality aspects of the Braibanti production and that are proudly kept as a memento by the Pizzetti family, we mention a booklet of poems by Parmesan poet Renzo Pezzani both in local dialect and in Italian, a poem in Roman dialect by the famous gourmand and actor Aldo Fabrizi, as well as the letters of a Parmesan man who emigrated to Venezuela and had pasta shipped to him, of Ugo Ugolotti (contributor writer for the Gazzetta di Parma), letters of chef Luigi Carnacina and of the King of May,  Umberto II, written from Cascais. [Translator’s note: Umberto II was known as the King of May since he ruled for just one month before being exiled]

[9] Barilla Historical Archives, O,  Braibanti folder.

[10] GALLO Giampaolo, COVINO Renato and MONICCHIA Roberto, Crescita, crisi, riorganizzazione. L’industria alimentare dal dopoguerra a oggi (Growth, Crises and Restyling. The food industry from the years after World War II to our day), in CAPATTI Alberto, DE BERNARDI Alberto and VARNI Angelo, Storia d’Italia (History of Italy). Annals 13. L’alimentazione (Nutrition), Torino, Einaudi, 1998, pp. 293, 294, 296.