Brunswick pasta entrepreneur keeps it fresh

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BRUNSWICK — Matthew DeFio has been trying to get out of the service industry for three years.

And he’s succeeded, sort of.

After years of cooking in local restaurants, DeFio, a Brunswick native, formally launched his own fresh pasta company, Il Dono, or “the gift,” last December 2017.

Il Dono offers fresh and frozen pasta, handmade by DeFio, with a variety of shapes and flavors he said he is “constantly switching up.”

More traditional shapes include pappardelle and cavatelli, but funkier stuffed pasta is also available, including beet ravioli or tortellini stuffed with mascarpone cheese.

Though Il Dono only officially launched about five months ago, the idea had been percolating for several years. The inspiration came from DeFio’s former boss Tim O’Brien, owner of Enoteca Athena on Maine Street.

O’Brien, who taught DeFio how to make pasta, began his business in Brunswick by making and selling his products at the Brunswick Farmers Market.

After deciding he wanted to leave the service industry, DeFio moved briefly to Austin, Texas, where he once again began working in a restaurant. When he came back, O’Brien advised him to start his own pasta business.

“That’s when Tim sat me down and he was like, ‘You need to do this, you need to make pasta, because I taught you, now I own a restaurant and I can’t do this (make and sell pasta) anymore. I would love to see someone else do what I started,'” he said.

After that conversation, DeFio moved back to Austin for an additional year to work in another restaurant, before returning and deciding to get serious about Il Dono last September.

Launching the business locally was relatively easy, he said, because of support from friends.

“All my friends were supporting me, I would just go up and down businesses, I’d be in Portland Pie (Co.) and have a beer, sell some pasta,” DiFio said. “I started a delivery service, I’m always going down to Portland, (and) would do drops during the week down there.”

Now, Il Dono pasta is available for purchase at Morning Glory Natural Foods on Maine Street. Discussions are underway about selling his pasta with the owners of The Cheese Shop of Portland, which is set to open in Portland next month.

Customers interested in ordering a specific type of pasta can also email DeFio directly. 

In addition to Il Dono, DeFio has kept busy teaching regular pasta classes at the recently opened restaurant Vessel and Vine on Pleasant Street.

Adjusting to teaching his craft, he said, has been a learning experience, but the classes have “been a blast.”

In addition to his cooking experience, DeFio said cooking classes had in Italy, as well as the experience of being overseas in general, have been influential for him.

While he was growing up in Brunswick, DeFio’s family hosted several Italian exchange students, who he has visited twice. During one trip after he graduated from high school in 2007, DeFio stayed in Italy for a month.

“I spent a month over there and just kind of didn’t even do the tourist thing, I did the living thing,” he said. “It was such a good experience to be able to live that culture and kind of see (it). I’m Italian, my grandparents on my dad’s side are Italian, all from New York, Long Island, so seeing New York Italian compared to the real Italian lifestyle was kind of a shock, but very similar at the same time.”

Going forward, DeFio said he hopes to be able to sell at the Brunswick Winter Farmers Market, where he said fresh pasta “is much easier to sell” than at a traditional store. He was unable to reserve a spot at the summer farmer’s market.

He’ll also be working with local farmers to create seasonal ravioli, particularly those from Six River Farm in Bowdoinham.

Though DeFio makes all of his pasta by hand, he does use a few tools, such as a mold for making ravioli, and a cutter to make ridges on his homemade fettuccine.

After making various types of dough out of flour and egg, he kneads it, and crafts the desired shape, before allowing the pasta to dry for about two hours either at room temperature or in the fridge, depending on when it will be used.

His favorite type of pasta is a product made with semolina flour, though he also said he loves “all stuffed pastas,” such as his cheese ravioli, which he makes with ricotta and parmiagiano cheese, lemon zest, and black pepper, and calls “super simple, super good.”

For all his knowledge, however, DeFio doesn’t put much stock in the difference between pasta shapes, saying “it’s just a bunch of B.S.”

The difference between fresh pasta and store-bought pasta, though, is something else.

“My number one thing is just the cooking – (fresh pasta) takes 45 seconds to cook, so I think its going to hold a better texture, and then just for simplicity, it’s 45 seconds,” he said. “You can eat it anywhere, (and) it just tastes better, it looks better, it’s fresh.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Brunswick native Matt DeFio launched Il Dono, a fresh pasta business, last December in Brunswick. DeFio’s pasta is available for purchase at Morning Glory Natural Foods, and he also teaches classes at Vessel and Vine.

Il Dono, which means “the gift” in Italian, offers a variety of shapes for customers to choose from; DeFio said making stuffed pasta is his favorite.

Matt DeFio cuts dough to make fettuccine May 14. DeFio makes all of his pasta by hand, and only uses a mold for ravioli.

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