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Ronzoni is discontinuing Pastina No. 155 — a.k.a. ‘Italian Penicillin’ — and its demise is hitting hard

‘It’s like an erasure of my childhood!’ and other emotional reactions to the news.

Ronzoni’s Pastina No. 155, which the company is discontinuing. Ronzoni’s Twitter post stated its supplier could no longer provide pastina production, and no “viable option” to continue making it could be identified.Ronzoni

Dominic Petruzzelli is watching with bemusement as different brands of Acini de Pepe pasta practically fly off the shelves of New Deal Fruit Inc., his family’s Italian food store in Revere.

Since news broke Jan. 3 that Ronzoni, a US dried pasta company, is no longer making its tiny star-shaped Pastina No. 155, customers have been stocking up on other mini pasta shapes. “I’ve seen all my sales of Acini de Pepe double,” he says. (Acini de Pepe is Italian for “seeds of pepper.”) “People are coming in and, instead of buying one or two boxes, they’re buying three and four because they’re afraid they’re not going to be able to get it later.”

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Over at the Seven Hills Pasta Co. stall in Boston Public Market, owner Giulio Caperchi has seen increased sales of his craft-dried Stelline (mini stars) pasta. “I mean, nothing crazy,” says the Italian native who co-owns the organic brand with his wife, Carol. “But definitely we’ve seen an uptick both at the market and wholesale inquiries. We’ve got [online] form requests from California, Michigan, Georgia!”

Pastina, dubbed “Italian Penicillin” by aficionados, literally translates into “little pasta.” It’s often part of an easily made and inexpensive comfort food dish with butter and cheese. While many companies make tiny dried pasta — including Barilla, Pastene, Prince, De Cecco, Colavita — the only brand that matters to a lot of people is the one with the shape they ate while growing up. News of Ronzoni pastina’s demise hit hard.

“It’s like an erasure of my childhood! What am I going to do now when I’m sick,” NPR editor Jennifer Vanasco wrote on Twitter while Al Roker shared his pastina childhood memory on a recent “Today” broadcast. A handful of Change.org petitions to bring back Ronzoni’s pastina are full of stories of folks who have been eating the pasta for decades, and those who want to feed it to future grandchildren. On TikTok, the soundtrack for HardCore Italians’ post is accompanied by “Baby Come Back,” the 1977 hit by soft-rock group Player.

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Nicole Maffeo Russo's comforting pastini dish. It is her Nonni's recipe.Nicole Maffeo Russo

Nicole Maffeo Russo, a Boston hospitality and lifestyle publicist, empathizes with those feelings. “Pastina is a staple in every Italian-American household,” she says. “When it was cold out, or I was feeling sick, my Nonnie would make me pastina and eggs, which is just boiled pastina with an egg mixed into it and serve it to me in a bowl with a little milk poured over it to cool it down. I would put some salt on it and feel better immediately. This tradition was passed onto me, and it is the dish I make my daughters when they are sick.”

Ronzoni’s Twitter post stated its supplier could no longer provide pastina production, and no “viable option” to continue making it could be identified. Finding Ronzoni Pastina now is nearly impossible. A single 12-ounce package formerly priced at Stop & Shop for $1.69 can currently be found on eBay for $19.29.

Petruzzelli says Ronzoni was among the first dried pasta brands available in the United States, before Italian pasta imports proliferated. (Ronzoni’s website notes large-scale production in the 1950s and 1960s enabled it to sell nationwide.) “My Dad was one of the instrumental guys in bringing dried pasta from Italy into the United States about 75 years ago,” he says.

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New Deal Fruit Inc. was among the specialty markets where Italian brands could be found while domestic brands, like Ronzoni and Prince, dominated grocery store shelves. Then Italian imports expanded. Barilla, for example, launched its dried pastas into the US market in 1996. Which is all to say that Ronzoni was among the first dried pasta companies to connect with US consumers.

“I moved here 10 years ago and I wasn’t even aware of Ronzoni,” recalls Caperchi. “It’s an Italian-American staple. Here, it’s part of everyone’s upgrowing.”

Giulio and Carol CaperchiTDM Photography

Ronzoni preference “comes from nostalgia and loyalty to a brand,” says Phil Frattaroli, of the Filmark Hospitality Group based in the North End. “If their family bought Ronzoni, they probably think that’s the best there is. It’s like how New Englanders feel about Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Frattaroli is a first-generation Italian American and doesn’t have a generational history with Ronzoni or pastina. His family favored using farfalline and ditalini pastas; the first is like little butterflies and the second is akin to tiny little rigatoni. Frattaroli is also a fan of Seven Hills Pasta’s stelline shape ($6.99 for 1 pound).

“There are a lot of different options out there,” he says. “A lot of times, especially in the Italian-American culture, things tend to be frozen in time. Explore. Get a different pasta in a different style.”

Meanwhile, if anyone craves a mini star-shaped pasta, Petruzzelli says to head over to his Revere store because “I have plenty!”

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New Deal Fruit Inc., 920 Broadway, Revere, 781-284-9825, newdealfruit.com

Seven Hills Pasta Co., Boston Public Market, 100 Hanover St., Boston, sevenhillspasta.com

Peggy Hernandez can be reached at peggyhernandezboston@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @Peggy_Hernandez.