Saveur Article: Page 3
which look like bright yellow footballs, fill metal bins. Vincenzo Zuottolo, a thinner, more carefree version of his older brother, helps two young women sort a pile of peppers twice the size of any I've ever seen. "Wait till you see them," Nick had said. " They look like they come from another planet." I'm called into the office. Savino and the interpreter have arrived. Anna Pina Franza is a blond high school English teacher who sounds like Sophia Loren. She accompanies me to the rear of the warehouse, where deep red plum tomatoes are being boxed. Now can I find out why the san marzano is the best in the world for making sauce? I wonder. I ask Anna, who asks Vincenzo and translates his reply: "It has less sugar."
An empirical demonstration awaits. Several newly washed roma tomatoes are lying next to some just-picked san marzanos. The difference in appearance is striking. The san marzanos are thin and pointed. (Scrawny would be the most appropriate word.) The romas are plump and glowing with health. I try a roma first, and find it mild, juicy, and very pleasant, albeit a bit bland. In contrast, the san marzano is meatier and drier, with a much stronger, much better taste. And ... it is less sweet! "I told you," says Anna. 'It's not like candy or cake. In the san marzano tomato, less is more."
The Romano canning factory is state-of-the-art and smells like tomato juice. Savino is negotiating with the owners to package his product, and he wants me to see how a modem cannery operates. In a white lab coat, I follow two chemists through a maze of conveyor belts. Thousands of tomatoes are being ferried, analyzed, sorted, washed, scalded, peeled, and packed into cans, which are then sterilized and capped. Adorned with colorful labels, the cans rise in silver phalanxes to the celling.'It's all quite fascinating, but I'm much more comfortable when we leave this antiseptic environment, pick up Giacomo Mura (one of the farmers who supplies Savino with tomatoes), and drive out of town to his fields. There, row upon row of head-high san marzano tomato plants are growing so thickly that it is impossible to see where one ends and another begins. Trained on wires supported by wooden stakes, the bushes bear their fruit in hefty clusters. Some are so heavily laden that they have snapped the stakes like matchsticks.
Up and down the rows we walk, Giacomo stopping to point out particularly abundant yields. Now, the soil speaks to me-and I'm at a loss for words. I can only shake my head in wonder. As we return to the car, a worker with a bunch of grapes greets us and passes them around. The man shows me his hands, stained black as if by a permanent tattoo. "It's from picking tomatoes", he tells me. "The juice from the stems. Hard work," he gestures with a grin and waves us on our way. The fresh tomatoes I've seen wi 'II go to supermarkets in Rome, Ancona, Florence-throughout Italy. Next year, they will be in the La Bella San Marzano brand of canned tomatoes (with a ripe, beaming, and bosomy maiden on the label, her lips and fingertips lacquered red like the san marzanos in her golden crown) and shipped to the United States. Then, as Savino comments, as he drives me back to the hotel, who knows? Nicola may be able to buy another Alfa Romeo.
As for me, if someone should ask why I wrote a story about a tomato, I'll simply say, "My barber made me do it."
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