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Mar 20, 2011 11:02 AM

Cento San Marzano tomatoes, the real deal?

A couple weeks ago I made dinner for a family gathering, homemade chicken parmesean and pasta.

When I cook special meals I like to use special ingredients like canned DOP San Marzano tomatoes. In the past I have found Cento or LaValle brand DOP readily at my local grocery store. But recently I could not find any brand marked DOP. So I bought Cento "San Marzano Product of Italy Pomodoro San Marzano Dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino Certified" peeled tomatoes. At $3.99 a can they cost as much as the Cento DOP I have bought in the past.

Since I had little choice, I made the sauce with them and it was delicious. Before cooking them, I noticed the tomatoes were long like DOP San Marzanos usually are and had a sweet, gentle, taste.

The back of the can says "Product of Italy....These Cento San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the Agro Sarnese Nocerino region of Italy, renowned for its especially fruitful soil as a result of its proximity to Mount Vesuvius. These tomatoes are authentic San Marzano tomatoes, produced with the proper method to ensure superior quality."

So my question... Is the DOP marking still the only way to determine authentic San Marzanos? I'm confused. This label makes me think these are the real deal. And to be honest everyone loved the sauce, it was as good as I could have hoped for, and I'm sticking with them regardless of their lack of pedigree.

I just want to know what's up. Thanks for any light anyone can shed on this subject.

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  1. This is good timing because I just saw a huge can of Cento San Marzano tomatoes in Costco. I think it said it was the equivalent of 10 cans and it was only $3.99. I can't use that much right now but am tempted to give it a try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chowser

      Can't you freeze what you don't use right away? You can't do that with many things from Costco but tomatoes at least...

    2. As far as I know, the D.O.P. certified seal or stamp is the only way to truly know if the product is authentic. The "Made in Italy" tag further supports that case.

      I personally only trust those with the seal or stamp. Given the slow and steady increase of pushing California grown Romas as a "San Marzano style" canned products is a little cheeky.

      While I may pay more for a Product of Italy, it alone does not warrant the extreme high price of those with the seal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jjjrfoodie

        My local supermarket carries the Cento tomatoes that the OP was talking about & I buy them. I don't have a can at the moment but I believe that the label states that they ARE San Marzano tomatoes and not "San Marzano style."

        I'm very well aware that these might not really be San Marzanos in spite of what the label says - but what I DO know is that they taste great. And in the end, my family could care less where the darn tomato was grown if it tastes that good. So I buy them - when I can. They are always sold out lately....

      2. I got duped into buying the "San Marzano style" tomatoes for $5 a can, only to discover (once home, of course) that they were grown elsewhere. My revenge: bought S.M. seeds for my own home-grown--why pay that price if they're not really grown there anyway?

        1 Reply
        1. re: pine time

          See if you can buy some volcanic ash to add to your garden soil. You know, to make it more like the soil in Naples. ;o) Supposedly that's what makes them good. Like Idaho spuds. (And why don't they grow San Marzano tomato seeds in ID, anyway?)

        2. Now that this thread has been transported to Siberi.. I mean the General Chowhounding Topics Board, I hope it doesn't get lost in the shuffle, as I am curious if anyone knows for sure what the deal is with DOP labeling these days, particualrly in the case of Cento San Marzano tomatoes. Much thanks.

          2 Replies
          1. re: TrishUntrapped

            Hi all,
            I wanted to take a minute to mention the difference between the real Genuine San Marzano tomatoes and the types out there labeled “San Marzano Style”, “San Marzano Seed” and the especially misleading “San Marzano Brand”
            A designation for European food products that stands for "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta." It is a certification issued and guaranteed by the European Union to identify and guarantee that specific food and agricultural products are authentic or made by skilled artisans engaged in producing the designated items in specific regions. Foods such as cheese, fruit, meat, food oil, and vegetables are commonly labeled with DOP to designate they have been certified. Similarly, another designation used for this purpose in Europe is IGP to refer to "Indicazione Geographica Protetta" to certify they are as guaranteed to be from the region designated.
            Note that the only true products will have the markings “DOP” and stamps on the label to prove they are the real thing.
            Please note: By no means do I intend to say that the product in the “San Marzano Brand” are not good product, but just to make sure that you do not accidentally represent them to your gourmet customers as San Marzano’s. The “San Marzano Brand” is an American company and California tomatoes, and is often misidentified by the consumer who doesn’t know better. Being a California product they also should be substantially lower in cost than the genuine import. Actually the Italians are not happy at all with this but the US doesn’t have the same laws regarding this.
            This is the same idea as Parmigiano Reggiano, Chianti, Tallegio and Fontina, Parma Prosciutto etc
            We sell many kinds of tomatoes including of course awesome California ones and as I mentioned before-good is good, but genuine is a very big deal to Italians and Europeans!

            1. re: Maryelle

              The San Marzano brand which you correctly point out is American, is a true disgrace. I tried them once and they bear no resemblance to real San Marzano tomatoes. They aren't even good as American brands go. So misleading.

          2. To be marked "DOP," San Marzano tomatoes must be grown in a specified area within the Italian region of Campania. The producer must also pay a fee to the Consorzio San Marzano. Some producers do not want to pay the fee, so their tomatoes don't get the DOP designation. In addition, San Marzano tomatoes are grown elsewhere in Campania and in other regions of Italy. These are not eligible to receive the DOP mark, since they are grown outside of the allowed geographic area. Some producers, like Cento and La Valle, sell both DOP and non-DOP versions.

            Bottom line: There are true San Marzano tomatoes that do not carry the DOP mark, but the only way to be sure of authenticity is to buy ones that have the mark. Still, if you find a non-DOP brand that you like as much as a DOP brand, I see no reason not to use it, especially if the price is lower.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cheesemaestro

              Cheesemaestro, thanks for the explanation.

              For others finding themselves in the same predicament, I can totally vouch for the "Cento San Marzanos" I described above. They are a good quality product.