Neil Fusco knows tomatoes. A trained chef and restaurateur, he is a native of the legendary San Marzano region of Italy. Growing up around some of the best tomatoes in the world, it is fitting that Neil would eventually come up with pasta sauces of his own.
"Since the 1800's in southern Italy, my family has farmed the world's best tomatoes, the San Marzano variety. These are the tomatoes that I use to make my Cucina Antica brand of cooking sauces as well as my new Monte Bene pasta sauces." The tomatoes are grown at the foot of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy, giving the San Marzano tomatoes a truly light, fresh and sweet flavor. Neil's original brand, Cucina Antica, is sold at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide and is made from 100% DOP San Marzano tomatoes. It is one of our best selling all natural, artisanal pasta sauces.
Neil has now taken his passion for pasta sauce to another level, with a new brand that blends San Marzano tomatoes with locally grown tomatoes from farms in New Jersey. Dubbed "Monte Bene" or "Mountain of Good," Neil's new sauce is not only more affordable but it also reflects his desire to promote ethically and sustainably sourced products.
You may be thinking: "New Jersey tomatoes? You gotta be kidding me!" New Jersey is actually the birthplace of the U.S. tomato industry. For a century, millions of cans of brand name soups were made with tomatoes grown, processed and canned in New Jersey. The desire for lower cost raw materials and higher profits moved much of the tomato industry to the sunny valleys of California, leaving behind both farmers and boarded-up factories.
But with the rising interest in local foods and farmers markets, New Jersey tomatoes are making a comeback. Last year our Northeast Region worked with Rutgers University and local farmers to bring the Jersey Fresh™ brand of canned tomatoes into our stores in that area and it has been a stunning success.
Neil's Monte Bene brand builds on this positive trend, by partnering his expertise directly with a number of New Jersey farmers who take pride in the quality of their product.
Farmer Joe Leone, a third generation farmer from Clarksboro, NJ, says that the great tasting flavor comes from picking ripe, red tomatoes. "We do not pick tomatoes that are half green; only those that are ripened on the vine and picked at maturity."
Farmer Ed Byrnes of Pilesgrove, NJ, has been farming since 1986 and is pretty enthusiastic about Monte Bene as well: "There is nothing better than a Jersey tomato! You can taste the difference in flavor between tomatoes from New Jersey and tomatoes from other states due to the soil."
And the expert himself, Neil, says, "New Jersey tomatoes are the most flavorful for sauce making in the U.S. due to their low level of acidity, allowing for a naturally sweetened, well balanced fruit flavor. I chose the New Jersey tomatoes in making Monte Bene pasta sauces because the tomatoes are farm-fresh picked, processed within 12 hours of harvesting and travel a short distance to where they are jarred. This method makes for a truly homemade flavor pasta sauce."
Monte Bene, a great tasting, artisanal pasta sauce with the goal of doing good for the common good, is available at Whole Foods Market nationwide.