Italian Words Mean Better-Tasting Pasta

Buitoni Riserva Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti

Buitoni Riserva Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti

I Paid: $4.49 for a 9-ounce box of pasta (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 4 stars

What do the words gourmet, special reserve, and select all have in common? If you guessed “marketing terms with no real meaning,” you win a tub of “premium” store-brand generic ice cream. But if there’s one quirk in the world of mass-market food that seems to be solidifying into a full-blown trend, it’s the phenomenon of big companies marketing “gourmet” products to a mass audience and—in a startling number of cases—living up to their part of the bargain.

This isn’t to say that the likes of Nestlé (which owns the Buitoni brand) and Kraft are actually turning out objectively gourmet food, the equal of which you’d find in a serious restaurant or high-end specialty foods store. But it is to say that many brands’ high-end lines are made with markedly better ingredients and more care than the run-of-the-mill stuff that flies under their standard labels.

Case in point: Buitoni Riserva Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti, a refrigerated, four-cheese ravioli, heat-and-eat pasta meal. Buitoni also has a regular Four Cheese Ravioli product, made with Parmesan, Romano, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses. So for it to make a product named basically the same thing, except in Italian, is an interesting marketing move.

The four cheeses are not quite the same: The Riserva uses Parmesan, fontina, “custom” ricotta, and Grana Padano, plus “fresh garlic” to boot. And, for a roughly 50-cent price difference, the Riserva label actually makes all the difference. The filling is creamy and subtle, the cheeses well balanced. The pasta is tender and actually flour-esque (in a good way), with a fuller-bodied finish than its down-market cousin. Meanwhile, the normal Four Cheese tastes mostly of ricotta, and the pasta is salty and a bit rubbery.

Therefore: If you’re going to buy your pasta dinner out of a refrigerator case, dig up the extra four bits and go gourmet. Buitoni makes it worth your while.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.