“The San Marzano tomato is long, sinewy and consistent in texture. It is the only type that does not break into pieces during processing, on the contrary, it remains whole and, you might say, ‘alive’ in the tin. Only with this type of tomato it is possible to obtain high quality and supreme flavour peeled tomatoes. Americans, connoisseurs in this matter, always ask for peeled San Marzano tomatoes. In American grocery shops and stores our tins are always on view and well displayed. Americans, who are tenacious consumers of their own national products, have no doubt in their choice about tomatoes. They know that it must be an Italian product or, better still, a product from the Campania region. All other types of tomato are always considered a second choice by Americans.
At this point we would like to add some remarks taken from the reportage written in 1957 by the neaplitan author Domenico Reo and dedicated to “The King of Tomatoes” that is the San Marzano tomato. More than forty years after the author’s journey through Campania territory, from Pompei to Paestum, the rows of this traditional vegetable can again be found glowing redly in the countryside of the Agro Sarnese Nocerino district. The King of tomatoes is back in the fields of the Agro area and with it the era of a plant that had become the emblem of the Campania economy in this century, as we sustained in the volume “Il Pomodoro: una Sapienza Antica” (Editor: Ippogrifo, May 1997). Its complex and, from some points of view, fascinating story is narrated in this book. It tells about the long and troubled journey of tomato across the ocean, from the mountains of Guatemala to its arrival, together with other tubers and spices, in Padania; it travelled there in the holds of the ships of Hernan Cortès, conqueror of the Aztec Empire. To tell the truth it was received with diffidence by royalty, scientists and men of the Church who, having no knowledge of its high vitamin content, labelled it as an evil fruit. However, its fortune changed in the seventeenth century thanks to Estensi, the Dukes of Parma, who distributed its seeds free to the peasants, who warmed them in old buckets set in the hay of the stables before planting them. At the time when Europe was agitated by the French revolution, the tomato could already be seen glowing redly among the green vegetable gardens in the hills around Parma.
In the book entitled “Il Pomodoro: una sapienza antica” (The Tomato: an ancient knowledge) it is sustained that it was only in 1902, in Fiano, a locality between Nocera, San Marzano and Sarno, that the “Pomme d’amour” (love apple) became the San Marzano. Delight of the connoisseurs, it perfumes the Sundays of both rich and poor. Obligatory feast days were scanned by the red sauce that covered the white pasta from the mills of Gragnano and Torre Annunziata like an "inebriating lava". The plants were cared for and coddled like the children of the peasant families who let tomatoes bring up in the characteristic lines constituted by poles and supported by canes or strands of wire, among dense foliage that protected the red fruits from the sun’s rays.
The warm terrain of the slopes of Mount Vesuvius is a determining factor for the bio-diversity of the San Marzano tomato. In fact, King Tomato could only boast of this title after becoming San Marzano. Born from the admirable crossing of three varieties of tomato: the Fiascona, the Fiaschella and the King Umberto, all of which were common in the Agro and Sarno areas. This summer, after forty years, we felt very satisfied when two farmers, Sabato Sirica and Eugenio Napoletano, from the town of San Valentino Torio, situated not far from Fiano, took us through the lines of their tomato plants loaded with red gold to show us some San Marzano plants they had found near the San Marina spring. This water , just as it has always done, flows pure and cold from the Lavorate basin to irrigate the tomato plants that have their home in the area where the San Marzano was born only a century before. The San Marzano Consortium was founded in 1966, after the European Union, in June 1999, officially recognised the product’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The merit for having reopened the discussion about the most famous tomato in the world must go to the most enlightened category of tomato processing industries in the area, together with the co-operatives of producers from the Sarno Valley. In collaboration with agronomy researchers from the Campania Regional Administration office of the Councillor for Agriculture, they have determined the basic eco-types of the production of the San Marzano itself. At the same time, we of Legambiente have also done our part, firstly through our commitment to the re-qualification of the Sarno river and the surrounding territory, and secondly through the relevant proposals taken from the Territorial Pact of the Agro Sarnese Nocerino area. The discussion will be continued and is destined to be developed and qualified more and more in the near future. The story of the territory has, in fact, always been characterised by the agro-industrial sector.
To us, the foundation of the San Marzano Park means the re-composition of the most representative identity of the Campania Felix territory. The validity of our intuitions: the creation of the Agricultural Park, the birth of the Garden of Aromas and making the San Marzano a organically grown product, are the qualifying objectives of the Agro area’s agro-industrial system and of the Associations that are fighting for the re-qualification of a territory rich in traditions and resources.