We’re driving across the Gargano mountain range in southern Italy. Past mediaeval hill towns, terraces of almond trees and ancient olive grows that roll gently down to the sparkling blue Adriatic Sea below.
It’s the middle of July and we’re making our journey in a classic Fiat 124 Spider. Roof down, the cool sea breeze masks the intensity of the summer sun. The inland plains of Foggia are our destination. We’re going to see –and taste – the first tomatoes of the harvest season where we will explore the process of how sun-dried and semi-dried tomatoes are produced.
My guide is someone who knows the tomato business well. Antonio Cardella is the commercial director of Fiordelisi, an artisanal food producer that specialises in sun dried and semi-dried tomatoes. The trained lawyer moved from Sicily to Foggia 35 years ago. He has spent his life working with tomatoes. A proud grin spreads across his face when we call him the tomato king.
Accompanying us on our tomato adventure is lifelong foodie Marco Silvagni. Marco is the co-founder of Bontà Italia, a UK-based distributor of fine Italian produce including the exceptional Casalinga range. Marco is retracing a road trip he made 26 years ago, when he toured Puglia and the Amalfi Coast in a Fiat 127 Sport while as a student.
As we near the tomato fields, Marco and Antonio’s excitement builds. Despite the years they’ve been doing this, their passion has not diminished. The earthy, herby, viney smell of tomatoes cuts through the thick summer air.
Nature in Foggia has conspired to create a wonderful serendipity for tomato growing, one where the climate, the land and the people have come together in perfect harmony. Indeed, so imbedded are tomatoes to this region that the farmers of Fiordelisi have been growing here for hundreds of years. But it is the enterprising current generation of owners who started to dry tomatoes commercially, allowing them to be preserved and sold internationally. We’re hereto follow this process, from field to fork.