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Piennolo Cherry Tomatoes
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Piennolo cherry tomatoes are a small variety with an elongated, oval to oblong, slightly tapered shape. The tomatoes bear a signature pointed tip on the non-stem end and showcase a vertical crease that extends through the center of each tomato. The skin is thick, smooth, glossy, and taut, ripening to a vibrant red. Underneath the surface, the flesh is dense, firm, and bright red, encasing a low water and high sugar content. Piennolo cherry tomatoes emit a robust, sweet, and subtly fruity, vegetal aroma and contain a distinct and concentrated, sweet and tangy flavor. Over time, the tomatoes develop umami undertones as they ripen, soften, and dry out, creating a bright acidity with naturally sweet, slightly bitter, mineral-forward nuances.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes are harvested at the end of summer and are stored through the winter in Italy.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes, botanically classified as Solanum lycopersicum, are an Italian heirloom variety belonging to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The cherry tomatoes grow in small clusters on compact vines and are favored for their unique cultivation technique, taste, and aroma. Piennolo cherry tomatoes are known by many different names, including Pomodorino Vesuviano, Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio, Pomodori Pendolo, and Little Vesuvian Tomato. The cultivar is grown on small plots of land above sea level in the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius and is considered one of the oldest varieties of the region. The tomato’s sweet and tart minerality is developed from the rich terroir, warm and sunny climate, and lack of manmade irrigation. Piennolo farmers depend on natural rainfall to nourish the tomatoes, and the plants are sown in tightly packed rows to further preserve moisture. Once harvested, Piennolo cherry tomatoes are interwoven by hand into large bunches and are hung from the ceiling to promote airflow while the tomatoes dry. This type of extended storage allows the tomatoes to develop a concentrated flavor distinct to the variety and region. In 2009, Piennolo cherry tomatoes were granted a Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, a label that recognizes that the tomatoes must be grown in their specific native region to obtain their unique flavoring.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The tomatoes also provide potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, calcium and phosphorus to protect bones and teeth and contain lower amounts of vitamin A, lycopene, and anthocyanins.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes contain a rich, sweet, and subtly bitter flavor well-suited for fresh and cooked preparations. When raw, the tomatoes can be tossed into salads, chopped for bruschetta, blended into fresh pesto, or sliced and mixed into pasta. They can also be simmered into sauces for roasted meats, vegetables, and pasta, made into a paste, stirred into soups and stews, or dried for extended use. In Italy, Piennolo cherry tomatoes are popularly sliced and preserved into jars, known as pacchetelle. The tomatoes are also utilized as a fresh pizza topping. Piennolo cherry tomatoes pair well with herbs such as basil, parsley, and oregano, cheeses including mozzarella, parmesan, and burrata, almonds, pine nuts, meats such as poultry, beef, and turkey, and seafood, especially shrimp and fish. The clustered tomatoes will keep 4 to 8 months when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place with ample air circulation. They can also be canned and kept for 1 to 2 years.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes are a treasured culinary ingredient in Naples, Italy. The name piennolo translates from a Neapolitan dialect to mean “hanging,” a descriptor used to highlight the cultivar’s traditional ceiling storage. Once the tomatoes are hung in well-ventilated spaces, they will slowly develop rich, umami notes over time as they dry, lasting well through the winter for a fresh burst of flavor. In Naples, Piennolo cherry tomatoes are viewed as a prized cultivar utilized as a seasoning rather than a base ingredient to showcase its unique taste. The tomatoes are traditionally incorporated into special occasion dishes, and during the Christmas season, they are given as gifts to friends and family. Piennolo cherry tomatoes are also featured in Christmas creche, a hand-crafted Neapolitan nativity scene comprised of sculptures and figurines. The intricate scene depicts the Christmas story mixed with daily Neapolitan life, including hanging bunches of Piennolo cherry tomatoes in bustling marketplaces. In addition to holiday recipes, Piennolo cherry tomatoes are one of the approved tomato varieties for authentic Neapolitan pizzas, established by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, a group founded in 1984 to preserve the rich heritage of the fresh pizza.
Piennolo cherry tomatoes are native to the Campania region of Italy, specifically the land surrounding Mount Vesuvius. Many Campania locals claim the tomatoes get their bright red hue from absorbing the red lava of the volcano through the roots buried in the ground. While this legend is a whimsical perspective on the variety, Piennolo cherry tomatoes have remained a beloved tomato that is also fiercely protected in its native region. The variety’s PDO includes several municipalities that are found within Vesuvius National Park and are believed to have been cultivated in the area since 1858 or earlier. Today Piennolo cherry tomatoes have stayed predominantly localized to their native growing region. When in season, the tomatoes are sold through local vendors in the Campania region, especially in Naples, and the tomatoes are sometimes exported through specialty distributors to high-end restaurants and chefs worldwide.