San Marzano tomatoes are world-famous with a long and storied history as the absolute best plum tomato for sauce and pizza. They are also excellent for canning, peeling and drying. Chefs worldwide prefer this variety to all others for making their signature sauces, and it is the only tomato that is acceptable for making true Neapolitan pizza. Many Americans are becoming fans and learning why this tomato created the peeled and sauce industry in Italy and across Europe.
San Marzano tomatoes are named for where they originate, the Campania region of southern Italy above the “toe” of the “boot”. Valle del Sarno is the valley where the recognized and protected variety is grown. The reason for this strict preference is the soil – a rich volcanic soil from Mount Vesuvius – that gives the tomato its distinct richness and depth of flavor. In fact, they are the only tomato that can be used for a true, recognized Neapolitan pizza! People who have tasted the native tomatoes grown in the volcanic soils claim that they can tell the difference between tomatoes grown there and those grown elsewhere, even if it is similar soils.
San Marzano tomatoes are thinner with a pointier end than Roma tomatoes, with a noticeably richer and mildly sweeter flavor. It has a thinner skin with fewer seeds and a meatier flesh than the Roma, with a higher pectin content that produces the thicker sauces it is famous for. This famous variety was developed from traditional breeding of three Italian tomatoes in the late 1800s; the King Umberto, Fiaschella and the Fiascona. Only the King Umberto tomato is still grown!
San Marzano tomatoes have been commercially popular since around 1875 when the first cannery was built to pack and ship these jewels across Italy and Europe. The popularity of the San Marzano declined during the 1970s as hybrids gained popularity for their thicker skins and tolerance of machine harvesting and marketability, but saw a resurgence in the late 1990s as people realized the flavor that had been lost with the original. Of 27 cultivars being grown in the Valle del Sarno area in the early 1990s, only 2 were selected as being the most representative of the traditional San Marzano. In 1996 the European Union granted Protected Designation of Origin status to the San Marzano tomato.
The San Marzano Redorta is one of the more popular cultivars of San Marzano due to its larger size and prolific production. The name creates some confusion, as this tomato comes from the Tuscany region, which is north of Campania where the tomato originated. It is supposedly named for a mountain – Pizzo Redorta – in the Lombardy region near the Italian Alps, which is much further north still. So, a larger version of the treasured San Marzano that is from Tuscany and not Campania, yet named for a mountain that is almost the length of Italy away? Stranger things have happened!
We do know that it is a great tasting and producing tomato with all of the traditional characteristics that have made the San Marzano tomatoes famous and have brought it back to being a heavyweight in the sauce tomato world. Whether you grow the traditional San Marzano or the Redorta, the flavors and production are sure to win you over.