|Chef Lorenzo Montoro at the 'gateway' to Montoroerbe|
I confessed to Chef Lorenzo Montoro that I had never been to Nocera Inferiore – which was quite obvious since I got lost and had to meet the chef in the piazza near the train station instead of in front of Osteria al Paese where he works.
I confessed that I had spent the previous evening researching/stalking the internet to learn all I could about him and his family’s farm. (Like this program here on Italian television starting at the 44th minute mark)
I also confessed that I didn’t know much about the famous San Marzano tomato – which Lorenzo assured me I’d get a chance to learn about up close and personal in just a few minutes.
So, in the car, on our way towards Masseria Pigliuocco aka Montoroerbe, Montoro began a mini-lesson on the territory and the tomato.
During that 10 minute drive, Montoro told me how the area has changed since the 70s. How it was just country, farms. Now there are small towns, apartments, new homes. But thankfully, I thought, there are still families like Montoro’s. Families, I thought to myself, that have decided to work the land and keep on producing quality in a tough territory.
We parked. Here we are, Montoro said. Masseria Pigliuocco-Montoroerbe.
There wasn’t a large gate. There wasn’t a sign. There really wasn’t anything that set this strip of land apart from the rest of the area. Just a small narrow dirt road and the simpatico smile of the chef’s father, Giuseppe Montoro a.k.a. Zi’ Peppe a.k.a. Uncle Peppe.
He joined our tour after he parked his bike on the side of the narrow strip and led me down the road to my magical adventure. It was hard to keep up with his energy and enthusiasm!!!
San Marzano tomatoes, real San Marzano tomatoes are the first choice for many chefs in Campania and throughout Italy when they need a hearty tomato sauce thanks to their strong sweet flavor and low acidity. When these babies hit the vegetable stands they are a little more expensive than many of the summer offerings. Besides taste,(which I can gurantee is amazing fresh or canned) I got a little insight into perche'/why.
These tomatoes, Uncle Peppe explained, needed to be trained and cultivated off the ground. The vines were attached to poles, and as I noted that afternoon, can have as many as three rows. The bottom rows are usually those that mature first. Three rows mean three different harvests, an extreme amount of care and attention.
Montoro showed me a few that, at the time, were just about ready for harvest and would eventually be canned as their precious red gold.
Well, I saw the tomatoes, I assumed that my visit was over. But Lorenzo Montoro had another plan. He was my White Rabbit, I was his Alice as we continued along on a magical journey through the rest of the property. Herbs, fruits and vegetables, flowers, nieces, nephews, rivers...the list goes on. Vegetables in their baby versions...
We tasted mulberries freshly picked off the tree. We refreshed ourselves with clean cool water from the Rio Santa Marina at the end of the property.
We continued our journey, wait, are those plums ready for picking, no not yet. What about that small pond? Shall we take a look at the frogs? There usually around this time of day...
I was eventually introduced to Lorenzo's older brother Dario. If Lorenzo is the White Rabbit, then Dario is the Mad Hatter. In a wow,what an amazing guy, kind of Mad Hatter way.
Dario spends seven days a week, sun up to sundown at Masseria Pigliuocco which in time became Montoroerbe. A full running farm on its way to being certified organic with products that many top Campanian chefs are knocking on the door daily to have the family farm's products to be an integral part of their menus.
Throughout my magical mystery tour - I continued to confess.
Wow, I've never tasted...what is this? I have never seen...And this? It smells like pineapple?? But how???!!!
I looked for Zi' Peppe...Lorenzo's dad. He was busy. I caught him threshing beans a with a homemade bean flail -old school style....