Mrs. Nic’s sauce again, and the San Marzano tomato story


pedigree: San Marzano, Italian San Marzano, Italian San Marzano D.O.C.



I love tomatoes, in any form, and I think I know what to do with them, in any form, but what do I know about the competing claims of the many serious (read, ‘high-end’) producers of tomatoes canned for cooking? I’m beginning to think that I may really only be able to say what tastes good.

I used to think I knew what was the very best canned tomato, based on my discussions with Nic Soccodato long ago, and my experience with the cans he sold out of the back of his barber shop. It was the San Marzano, and only the San Marzano which originated in and grew in his own paese, the Valle del Sarno.  After he retired however I may have inadvertently strayed from what he would have considered the genuine San Marzano, and recently I became aware that one of the brands I had been using for some time, and had always found very good, while described as San Marzano tomatoes, did not actually include fruit from Italy. Apostasy, or victory for locavores?

The problem has been further complicated by the fact that products of the same producers are not found in all markets, and the name, ‘San Marzano’, might not be found on any label in a given market, on a given day.

The can of peeled tomatoes shown in the image above, produced by Agrigenus, is what I used last Wednesday, in my last tomato sauce outing; it had all of the credentials. On Friday however, when I was at Eataly for another reason, and remembered I should replace it, the one brand I found was Mutti.  The label asserted, ‘Only Italian tomatoes. GMO Free’, but, while I looked everywhere, the words ‘San Marzano’ were nowhere to be found. I’ve really liked this brand in the past, often picking it up when my first choice was not available. Its exclusive presence in the store seemed to carry the recommendation of Batali and the Bastianich family, so I bought one.

I now don’t know what my experience means to the claims for San Marzano tomatoes from the Agro Nocerino, but I’ll probably continue to seek out the original.