The Piennolo cherry tomato (The Sun on a plate), the Slow Food Presidium has been closed

by Enzo Coccia

Without thinking twice, I would say: “It was better when it was worse!”. With regret I have welcomed the news of the closing of the Slow Food Presidium for the Vesuvius Piennolo cherry tomato, created in 2001 with the aim of protecting the biodiversity of this variety grown around Mount Vesuvius area.

I should rejoice because the tomatoes that everyone wants, the ones that I put on my pizzas and the whole world envies us, are no longer in danger of extinction thanks to the PDO Consortium that protects them. However, it does not make me happy to know that the Slow Food Presidium label will soon disappear on all the jars.

Indeed, to be honest, this news makes me sad and sombre. To explain it, I should  go a step backward to 1998 when, at Salone del Gusto in Turin, I met three Slow Food members, just like me: Giovanni Marino, then owner of the organic company Casa Barone located in Massa di Somma sul Vesuvio with his collaborators Dario Meo and Lidia Merola. They asked me to use their Piennolo cherry tomatoes to garnish my pizzas, the ones with the thick skin that grow at altitude of 500 meters above sea level and are preserved, tied in the old technique “a piennolo”, until the spring following the harvest time.

It was immediately an alliance of pleasure: I can still remember our trips around the world (China, USA, Canada, UK, Turkey and Spain) with tomato cans in our luggage, proud to export a rarity of our land. And it was a global success.

In the documentary “The Sun on a plate” which I made in 2012 for Rio Film, with the direction of Alfonso Postiglione, translated into other languages, I go to Massa di Somma and let people see how the Piennolo tomatoes are cultivated and preserved.

And even the New York Times dedicated an article to this tomato in “Dining &Wine” section, after having discovered it thanks to my consultancy for the American restaurateur Donatella Arpaia.

It talked many times about the product’s organoleptic qualities the MedEatResearch, Center of Social Research on the Mediterranean Diet, founded in April 2012 at the University of Naples Suor Orsola Benincasa and directed by Marino Niola, professor of Anthropology of Symbols, Anthropology of arts and performance and Myths and rituals of contemporary cuisine, which included it among the Mediterranean Diet pillars.

Scientific mark – if ever proof was needed – of a value already widely recognized by the Neapolitan tradition (which assigns to the Piennolo tomatoes a place of honour on the Nativity scene) and culture, as in the popular spaghetti with vongole fujute (“escaped” clams), the recipe described by the famous Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo in which – given there were no clams because of most people poverty –there were, indeed, the tomatoes.

For me, the Piennolo is a symbol – from the Greek to tie, put together – of friendship, history, culture, taste and territory. And that’s why after all those years spent defending the “Piennolo” with my Casa Barone friends, dreamers and revolutionaries, it makes me feel so down to see the disappearance of the Slow Food Presidium logo. So, I borrow Nanni Moretti words: «I believe in people but I do not believe in the majority of people. I think I will always be in tune and find myself more comfortable with a minority».