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Chris Bianco and Rob DiNapoli Release Their Own Tomatoes

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt except last photo, Robyn Lee]

You could say we're fans of Chris Bianco's pizza around here on Slice. So we were excited to find out what's recently been bubbling and fermenting in the fertile mind of the First Poet Laureate of pizza: his own line of organic plum tomatoes. Seven years in the making and developed together with Rob DiNapoli, third generation California produce canner, the brand name is Bianco DiNapoli, and is probably on the top of every professional and home pizzaiolo's wish list.

Unfortunately, last year's crop — the first available — is already nearly sold out.

We were lucky enough to score a can of them for the office and tasted them today (along with the remnants of our New York baguette tasting). They're pretty awesome: slightly sweet and ultra-fresh tasting with a deep, ripe tomato aroma accented by a hint of basil ("exactly four leaves per number 10 can" Bianco tells us).

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Unlike many canned tomatoes, these guys contain no calcium chloride. It's a firming agent used to keep tomatoes structurally intact even after pasteurization and storage, but can also make tomatoes too firm, preventing them from breaking down properly during cooking. I consider calcium chloride a sort of cheat, designed to let producers blast tomatoes at high pasteurization temps without fear of them disintegrating. The fact that Bianco's contain no such additive are indicative of their careful handling, and it shows in their fresh flavor.

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The tomatoes are organically grown, peeled with steam, hand-selected for yellow shoulders, and packed with just a bit of Pacific sea salt, which Bianco says he decided on after tasting tomatoes packed with salt and those seasoned after opening. "I found, much like pasta cooked in unsalted water, balancing the salinity afterwards has an outside-in effect on the fruit that I found not to be as thorough as I liked."

I could talk a lot more about 'em, but why not leave it to the poet himself? Here's what Bianco has to say:

Like most, I believed the best tomatoes in the world came from San Marzano. Every year since I opened my pizzeria in 1988, I would taste every tomato from Italy or California that I could get my hands on; finding like wine that depends on grapes for a great vintage, flavor profiles would vary from season to season. I would see inconsistencies, maybe due to outsourcing of product, or lowering of higher standards to reach the demand of a world full of eager consumers — including myself.

For the the record, I believe San Marzano, as do many parts of this gift-of-a-world, grow and pack fine products. I just see the planet earth as a whole. I see people and their struggle and commitment, and every inch of this earth, as an opportunity to express our gratitude and share that pure intention with others.

These tomatoes are an expression of Farmer Cliff Fong of Fong Farms in Yolo County, CA's dedication and life's work. We tried to screw up his and nature's perfection as little as possible. The artwork on the label was done by my father, Leonard Bianco. It was great to have him and my brother Marco put the design package together.

I am extremely proud and grateful to be a part of this project.

Congratulations, Chris!

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