Delights from Puglia: flour, oil and tomatoes

27 July 2022

The Natural Reserve of Torre Guaceto is an oasis with an extraordinary variety of protected ecosystems: a marine reserve, the coast, the Mediterranean maquis shrubland and agricultural land.

In this area – just a few kilometers from Brindisi – the agricultural entrepreneur Mario di Latte, who runs the Calemone Farm, grows fiaschetto tomato, a Slow Food Presidium since 2008.

In the late 90s, Mario di Latte and his brother Giuseppe inherited family land within what is now known as the Torre Guaceto natural reserve. A precious gift: in this land there are monumental olive groves, and the fiaschetto tomato.

Heritage

And so the Calemone Farm was born, initially focused on producing extra virgin olive oil. As Mario says: “We’ve cultivated this land for many years. We come from a long line of horticulturalists; we’ve always produced olive oil and grown vegetables. Beyond olive oil, one of these most representative products of this land is the fiaschetto tomato. My ancestors have always grown it. I grew up with it as a constant presence on my kitchen table. Nonetheless, it was slowly disappearing, because new, more productive varieties were emerging. In 2008, in collaboration with the Consortium of Torre Guaceto and the Slow Food community, a project to recover this local variety started.”

Fiaschetto tomato: characteristics and production

Mario, together with the Calemone Farm, grows these tomatoes within the reserve, in a strip of brackish land, but whose properties give it a unique flavor. “It’s a sweet tomato with an acidic aftertaste, perfectly balanced. We sell it both fresh and processed. It’s one of the jewels of the entire reserve.”

How does the production process work? “We have a very precise calendar, which was, in older times, connected to religious events. We replant on March 19, Saint Joseph’s Day, but in reality it’s right before spring begins. Then they stay for 40 days in the plant nursery, and then stay outside for a further 90 days. We use dripping wings, tubes close to the plants, to ensure that they get exactly as much water as they need. We work to avoid wasting water. The harvest comes on Saint John’s Day: June 24.”

As Calemone is a farm that works according to organic certification, weeding is done entirely by hand. The plow for furrowing is pulled by horses, like in the old times. No pesticides or other chemicals are used in the field, only organic fertilizers. This approach minimizes the impact on the land and the surrounding ecosystem.

Difficulties to confront

While the fiaschetto tomato is a delicacy that tastes of Puglia, it has to cope with some difficulties. “At the production level, you have to pay attention to the appearance of fungi and bacteria, and insects. But we have realized that the seedlings, in organic farming, tend to defend themselves; for a few years now we have been producing natural substances that strengthen their defenses. In organic farming, a prevention system has to be put in place. Since we do not use strong products we have to act in advance to prevent damage or loss. All this requires several years of experience,” Mario explains.

“It’s a niche market. We’ve built a narrative around this product, which focuses on its peculiarities and justifies its price to consumers. The first way to pique people’s curiosity is of course, letting them taste it. The greatest satisfaction is when people tell us, especially older people, that our tomatoes reminds them of the tomatoes of their childhood. We’ve maintained the same process which our mothers and grandmothers used to preserve them.”

Childhood memories

Before we finish our chat, Mario tells us about a memory from his own childhood. “Every year, in July, my family and I would gather with all our relatives, and together we would spend the day making passata. They were moments of great conviviality. The women would crush the best tomatoes and retrieve the seeds for the following year; the men would devote themselves to cooking the tomatoes. In the afternoon, the focus was on the masher, and the resulting sauce was put into earthenware containers. At this point the aunt, the oldest person, would take care of salting them. Finally, after the passata was bottled, the bottles and jars were boiled in a bain-marie. Each step was part of a real ritual, culminating in a feast. At one time there was no family that did not make tomato sauce at home. In the rare years when it snowed, I remember older people uttering this phrase, “we have flour, we have oil, we have tomato sauce.” We have now become entrepreneurs, but our products continue to speak and tell the tale of this tradition.”

Presidia from Puglia at Terra Madre

Come to Terra Madre to discover the biodiversity of Puglia at Terra Madre through the Presidia and Ark of Taste products: extra virgin olive oil, the Gravina pallone, the fiaschetto tomato of Torre Guaceto, Martina Franca capocollo, fecazze a livre, caciocavallo podolico, the Gargano goat, the Acquaviva red onion, the black chickpea of Alta Murgia, Mandura tomatoes, Toritto almonds, Francavilla Fontana Confetto riccio, Monte Sant’Angelo bread, Taranto mussels and Manduria Colombino.

by Tommaso Primizio, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is in Parco Dora, Turin, from September 22-26, 2022, with over 600 exhibitors and a series of workshops, conferences and tastings that show how we can regenerate our planet through food. #TerraMadre2022 is a Slow Food event. Free entry!