San Marzano plum tomatoes
San Marzano is a small town near Napoli (Naples), Italy. The plum tomatoes that come from this region are grown on the rich soils formed from the ash and lavas from Mount Vesuvius, and many chefs consider them to be the finest tomatoes to use in sauces. I am one of those chefs. All I can say is make your sauce with San Marzano plum tomatoes and then with regular tomatoes from Del Monte or Hunts (I think Hunts has great tomatoes and use them when I cannot get San Marzano). You will be astonished by the difference.
There are many kinds of plum tomatoes, and they are grown all over the world including California. One variety, Roma tomatoes, is the most common variety sold in supermarkets and is grown not only in the US but Australia, Great Britain, and South America. The Roma tomato is fine, but for superb-rich sauces it cannot beat the San Marzano tomato in my opinion. Therefore, I cannot recommend San Marzano tomatoes highly enough. I might also add that they have fewer seeds, are sweeter, and less acidic than the Roma. In fact, the San Marzano tomatoes are officially designated as the only tomatoes acceptable for vera pizza Napolitano (true Napoli pizza), because of their high quality and the nearness to Naples. I am sure there is some politics involved here, but you cannot beat the taste. So it probably does not surprise you that I also use them on my pizza crust even though my family comes from northern Italy.
Not all San Marzano tomatoes (pomodoros) come from the Napoli region. They are so popular and delicious, many companies use the name on their cans in the hopes that you will think they are grown near Napoli. I even know of one company that brands their plum tomatoes “San Marzano” even though they come from California. By the way, San Marzano is a type of tomato (its’ name comes from the town near Napoli) like roma so the branding is legal. I have tried many brands grown outside of Napoli, and they are quite good. But I still think the San Marzanos grown on those volcanic soils around Napoli cannot be beaten.
So how do you know you are buying true plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region? Only canned San Marzano tomatoes grown in the San Marzano region (and in compliance with other sections of Italian law) can be designated as D.O.P. (protected designation of origin) and have a stamp on their label. Please see the label below (I show the Poma Rosa brand, but there are many brands that have this status). It states “San Marzano D.O.P." and has a stamp or emblem from the Italian government designating the product as legitimate San Marzano plum tomatoes.
San Marzano D.O.P. and government stamp.
The real thing.