San Marzano tomatoes are known for their sweet, low acidity, pulpy nature that makes them incredibly good for making sauces.
According to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, to make the true and original Neapolitan pizza, San Marzano tomatoes are the only ones you could use. Nothing else will do.
Many of the questions around the San Marzano tomatoes can be summarised with the following: what is so different about the San Marzano tomatoes? Why do they cost more? And how to recognise the real ones from the "fake"?
To give you a little background on the San Marzano tomatoes, their first appearance was around the 1770, when the Viceroyalty of Perù gifted some seeds to the Kingdom of Naples. They were planted in the area of San Marzano sul Sarno, in the volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius. Yes, the same volcano responsible for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79.
The link between the tomatoes and the land is not only in the name of the location where they were first planted: the volcanic soil, the microclimate, the sea breeze from the Gulf of Naples... they all influence the end result.
In Italy, the name San Marzano must follow the strict "protected designation of origin" guidelines (DOP in the Italian), which also states where they must grow and how they’re processed.
Unfortunately, the counterfeit are endless. Consider that the DOP denomination is not recognised everywhere in the world, which means that you can easily buy on the market San Marzano tomatoes from California, China, and so on.
So how to recognise the real San Marzano from the "fake" ones? There are a few things you should watch out for:
1. San Marzano tomatoes are certified only if they come as whole or fillets, peeled and canned.
2. The Agro Sarnese-Nocerino between Naples and Salerno, the DOP designated area for San Marzanos, is made of a limited number of small lots. You can ask for a certification from the producers that will tell you if they are allowed to use one of these lots.
3. Look for a certification from the consortium by finding the seals for both the DOP, as well as a certification number for the tin at the bottom.
4. If the price is too low, don't expect the real deal.
Agroqualità is the authority controlling the lots and through the consortium, each production has a serial number. Our producer Italiana Vera is regularly enlisted with Agroqualità, with the number CI04.
So if you're in doubt and wonder "are these going to be the real deal?" the answer is simply: YES!
And they are oh so delicious.