Italy is synonymous with tomatoes and because they are integral to so many classic Italian dishes, it’s an ingredient that the locals take very seriously. This is especially true of Puglia in Southern Italy where the weather and landscape combine to create the perfect conditions to grow some of the tastiest tomatoes in the country.
Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot and is one of the most important agricultural regions in the country. It’s here you’ll find the Passalacqua family, who have been growing organic vegetables, including tomatoes, for more 30 years.
The Passalacqua’s farm sits in the rural sunny countryside, surrounded by olive trees (this area is olive oil country, after all) and is overseen by a large mountain chain which marks the start of the Gargano National Park.
Originally owned and run by Nino (68), this land is now looked after by Nino’s three children: Nino Jr, Giulia and Tiziano, as well as Giulia’s husband, Mirko. Although the next generation have officially taken over the family business, Nino Jr said his dad still worked on the farm every day, making it a true family affair.
“My dad likes his work very much,” he said. “He is always the first to arrive in the morning and he’s the last to leave every night.”
Nino has passed his dedication and love for his work onto his children who have an obvious passion for the land and growing the very best produce.
“I like this kind of lifestyle,” Nino Jr said. “It keeps you healthy because you don’t have to work with chemical products; we are always researching for natural ways that can help the plants grow better.”
As well as a healthier lifestyle for workers, Nino Jr believes growing produce organically is better for the people eating them too and he is constantly researching new varieties that are healthier, tastier and naturally more resistant to illness. A local university recently found their tomatoes contained 60% more lycopene than conventional varieties.
“With tomatoes, we are studying some varieties that have a higher quantity of lycopene - a very important antioxidant for the body,” Nino Jr said. “We do a lot of testing to check which tomato is the best to grow; our parameters are around healthiness, growing and, of course, taste.”
It’s clear that, to the Passalacqua’s, a tomato is not just a tomato and when it came to finding the right one for our upcoming savoury snack (keep reading for more on this), the family - who usually plant three to four varieties of tomatoes each year - planted nine varieties just to find the perfect one for us!
All the Passalacqua’s bright red tomatoes are grown outdoors in the full splendour of the Italian sun for a deeper, sweeter flavour which comes from the tasty, fragrant pulp inside. Many tomatoes grown in greenhouses or under tents are primarily made up of water, making the final product softer and diluting the flavour.
The family ensure that their tomatoes retain their shape, vibrant flavour and freshness by harvesting each and every one by hand and sending them off to their final destination promptly.
And it’s not just the produce that the Passalacqua’s are serious about; healthy and tasty produce goes hand-in-hand with a healthy environment, which is why the family are always innovating to find greener ways of working with the land.
For example, Nino Jr said they had installed a special drip irrigation system, created in Israel, that has helped them save a lot of water when growing their tomatoes.
They are also in the midst of getting a major wind turbine project approved, which Nino Jr said would hopefully help them produce all their energy independently by 2023.
The family considers their land a gift from nature and it’s not hard to see why. It provides them with pristine water so they can wash their vegetables without the use of chemicals and the wind they receive helps to stop their produce from freezing when winter rolls in.
“We also have a lot of bees here that help us pollinate the mini watermelons and grapes we grow,” Nino Jr said. “We do not take the honey [from the hives] so they live naturally all year round.”
Although he’s yet to have any children of his own, Nino Jr hopes that, if he does, they will one day help to continue the family business and enjoy this wholesome way of life.
We’ve been working on an exciting new savoury snack that heroes the tomatoes from this beautiful region, giving them some well-deserved limelight at last. We can’t reveal too much yet, but keep an eye on our social media for more very soon!