San Marzano PDO Tomatoes
By C. Wilson
Introduction to San Marzano PDO Tomatoes…
San Marzano Tomatoes PDO (Protected Designation of Origin or DOP) are one of the most emblematic products of Mediterranean cuisine and arguably the world’s finest for making sauces. But with production costs almost 3 times higher than other pomodori pelati (peeled tomatoes) and a supply which nearly always runs out after a few months, what is it that makes these elongated plum tomatoes with pointy ends the undisputed King of tomatoes?
What are San Marzano PDO Tomatoes?
Well, annoyingly for other tomatoes, they are one of those irksome types that swagger around managing to please everyone…
Producers are delighted: They have very few seeds and the peel practically falls off. It is the only type of pelato that fully keeps its shape and doesn’t break up during processing.
Consumers are thrilled: Real San Marzano PDOs enjoy a vibrant, rich and sweet taste with low acidity and a stirring bittersweet finale. This flavour profile really sparks into life when they are made into sauces. They’re healthy too; brimming with vitamins A, B and C and rich in Licopene, a fashionable antioxidant. It is also 90% water so you can eat lots of them without having to adjust your girdle.
Chefs are ecstatic: Their flesh is dense and meaty with superb consistency of texture and low acidity, while their vivid red colour really makes a sauce stand out. They have a growing reputation as the tomato of choice for chefs world-wide. The Pizza Association of Naples (the true home of pizza) recently ruled that for a pizza to be considered as real Pizza Napoletana only San Marzano DOP tomatoes can be used.
Location is everything!
Like a fine wine, the remarkable terroir of the PDO area is a determining factor in the formation of these distinct characteristics. Production is limited to a small region around the town of San Marzano, from Pompeii to Paestum, on the beautiful foothills of Mount Vesuvius. The mineral-rich volcanic soil and Mediterranean climate provide the perfect environment for growing tomatoes. This setting, combined with the expertise of resident farmers who have been crossing local varietals for decades, has culminated in the San Marzano as we know it today.
Regardless of the costs involved, PDO production rules call for vertical cultivation, using wires attached to wooden supports, and harvesting must be done manually. In simple terms it’s a bit like growing them in your back garden with a stick and a bit of string. Of course that’s fine if you have half a dozen plants, but imagine if you have 150,000 of them! You might have to get your neighbour to help out.
The San Marzano Swindle
We mentioned San Marzanos like to please everyone. Unfortunately they are also a counterfeiter’s dream. With demand at least 10 times higher than the total production, it is sadly inevitable some suspect companies will stick labels onto unbranded tomatoes using the San Marzano name and the “D.O.P” seal next to it.
The Consorzio of San Marzano tries its best to stop the fraudsters but can only do so much. It is said that only 5% of San Marzano tomatoes on sale in the US are actually PDO! Here are some easy ways to spot the scam:
Canned San Marzano PDO tomatoes are only ever produced as whole or filleted. So if you see any which are pureed, chopped, diced, with ingredients added, ready-made into a sauce or even organic, then they are not the real deal. They will always come in a can which states ‘Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P.’ together with a unique and traceable serial number and the consortium logo.
To view our entire range of San Marzano Tomatoes, please click here.