BIG SANDY, Mont. - When Bob Quinn took over his fourth-generation, 2,400-acre family farm in 1978, unstable commodity prices forced him to think outside the conventional box of grain and cattle. Following suit with the organic movement, Quinn took interest in an ancient Middle East variety of grain called Khorasan, and Kamut International Ltd. was born.

After receiving his Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from the University of California-Davis, Quinn established a wheat-buying and brokering company in 1983 that sold his and his neighbors’ high-quality, high-protein grain. Almost thirty years later, Quinn is the president of Montana Flour, and is still actively involved in the business.

“Our company selected Kamut because it was ideal for creating flavorful, toothsome pasta,” says Ricarddo Felicetti, CEO of the Felicetti pasta company in Italy, who gets his grains from Quinn. Kamut pasta was a Sofi award finalist in 2014 and 2016, and in 2015 produced 2.2 million pounds of pasta.

Kamut is an ancient grain that has not been changed through modern plant breeding programs, which could account for the high nutritional value and low gluten sensitivity of the wheat. Kamut International is 100 percent organic and non-GMO.

“Kamut brand Khorasan wheat is two to three times the size of normal wheat, has a golden color and a sweet, nutty flavor,” says Tara Blyth, communications and development director for Kamut International Ltd.

According to Blyth, Kamut Khorasan wheat is high in protein, minerals and selenium content, which makes it a powerful antioxidant and more accessible to those with gluten-intolerance or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

In 2016, more than 150 farmers grow about 80,000 acres of Kamut brand Khorasan wheat, the majority of which is exported to Europe for a variety of uses including breads, milk substitutes, pastas, soups, pizzas and cookies.

“Over the years, we have conducted growing trials in over 40 countries on six continents,” Blythe says. “However, grain grown in Montana, Southern Alberta, Southern Saskatchewan and western North Dakota has consistently been the best quality.”

According to Food Historian Francine Segan, Monograno Felicetti’s organic line of pasta was developed and cultivated under conditions ideally suited to produce the world’s best tasting single-origin ancient grains.

“Growing regions have long been known to play an influential role in the unique flavor and nutritional attributes of the food products produced there,” she says. “The company invested four years and hundreds of trials before it finally selected regions with the world’s best soil and climate conditions to produce each strain of its artisan grain pasta.”

Kamut has never been hybridized or modified to yield more per acre or to inherit certain disease resistance, and has the tendency to mold in more humid climates. Montana’s mountainous terrain and cool, often unpredictable climate, paired with Canada’s abundance of fresh water lakes and sprawling grain fields were selected as prime growing regions for Kamut, where the plant picks up the region’s flavors of macadamia and pine nuts from the soil.

“Since the yields aren’t the same as other modern wheat, it does not make financial sense to grow it under irrigation,” Blythe says. “In some areas that potentially have the correct climate there is either a lack or what certified organic means or the political climate is not conducive to starting a commercial program there.”

Felicetti Kamut is also grown in regions of Italy. All Monograno Felicetti products are 100 percent organic, non-GMO and Kosher certified.