Each of a chef’s knives serves a purpose. Some have long blades ideal for slicing and dicing, while others feature small blades for trimming and peeling—and there are many variations of each. Not all chefs have the same tools in their knife block as cultural cooking styles require different ingredients. Therefore, diverse methods of preparation come to life. Between all of these factors, chefs build their perfect version of a knife set, slicing, dicing, trimming, and peeling their way to fresh culinary creation.
Lucky for chefs, there are many knives that can cut into a tomato. As I talk with Carl Mastronardi about the DelFrescoPure® heirloom tomato program, he uses a classic long-bladed chef’s knife to slice open a bright, yellow piece of fruit. It is a perfect pairing—the tomato slices like butter, and we each admire the complex cross-section that is unveiled.
“Yellow and orange heirlooms will give you a much sweeter flavor profile. Once you start putting them in different recipes, it’s beautiful to see the variety of colors they bring,” says Carl, President of the fast-growing greenhouse company. “All of the colors perform a function. Food is very unique in that way.”
As Carl continues slicing through his favorite heirloom tomato varieties, he describes the fervor with which he has grown this program.
Similar to the way a chef might build their perfect lineup of knives, Carl has personally evaluated hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties to build DelFrescoPure as one of the industry’s leading portfolios, tailored to the buying patterns of today’s consumers.
“We’re currently in our fifth year of growing the category. We started out with about one acre of heirlooms and now we grow over five acres. In the first year, I didn’t like the taste of many of the varieties. We had grown 50 or 60 varieties to see which ones were the best, and it gave us a better idea of which ones the consumers would prefer,” he explains. “When you evaluate your program, you want to consider how the consumer will react to new flavor profiles. You can put so many different varieties on the market, but some of them don’t taste as good as others. So, we focused on texture, flavor, and appearance.”
With such a vast array of flavors and colors on the market, a successful heirloom tomato program is not easily achieved. DelFrescoPure’s prowess in the industry precedes it, with Carl’s category know-how growing sharper by the bite.
“All of the colors perform a function. Food is very unique in that way.”
Carl Mastronardi, President, DelFrescoPure®
Carl slices into a deep brown tomato now, touting its strong flavor as the quality that won him over.
“I don’t eat all of the varieties because I don’t like all of them,” he asserts honestly. “Some heirlooms are mild while others have a more sharp flavor. I like sharper varieties, so I love the browns, deep reds, and oranges. I need to taste them for myself because if I don’t believe in the products, I have a hard time pushing them.”
Such diverse offerings make for culinary magic as chefs discover new inspiration at every corner—or, I should say, on every vine. Wielding each of their own tomato-slicing knives, chefs around the world have been particularly intrigued by the heirloom category. DelFrescoPure reports that the majority of its customers for this category reside in the foodservice sector.
“This year, everyone’s circumstances have changed due to COVID-19, but the category is still very dynamic,” Carl tells me, “and we expect it to remain on an upward trajectory as we adapt to a new normal and foodservice strengthens its legs again.”
It’s becoming more common to see heirloom tomatoes shining on the shelves of organic grocers and at the center of plates in high-end restaurants. Carl, however, believes that the category is ripe for growth beyond the specialty market as varieties are in such abundance.
DelFrescoPure is currently working to continue growing the program, expanding its supply to more big-name chain stores.
“We aren’t just growing something for the volume anymore. We are growing categories according to the taste and perception of our consumers.”
“This is a category that everybody can enjoy,” Carl continues. “For the last three years, the industry standard for heirloom tomatoes has been a ten-pound package with a PLU box. We have been tossing around the idea of developing double or single packs, even a three-pack for some of the smaller varieties.”
Within DelFrescoPure’s strategic expansion, the company is also growing beyond its conventional offerings through its organic programs. Consumers expect more from the products they purchase, and the grower is working to meet that demand. It is a natural next step for DelFrescoPure, as Carl explains that the grower’s hydroponic methods go hand in hand with organic standards.
“With hydroponics, we use Integrated Pest Management as biological controls and bees to pollinate. With pest pressure controls in place, this reduces our use of harmful chemicals,” Carl says.
Carl holds a freshly-sliced, bright red heirloom tomato to the light, drawing our attention back to the intricacies this category is known for.
There is a seemingly endless number of heirloom tomato varieties, and Carl insists it is up to him as a grower to eat them all and find out which will be most profitable. It is through this unshakeable belief that he has grown DelFrescoPure’s heirloom tomato program into what it is today.
“There are over 3,300 acres of high-tech greenhouses in Leamington, Canada, right now. When I started 30 years ago, there were maybe 200,” Carl reflects. “We started with two products: a cucumber and a Beefsteak tomato. Today, I have lost count of all the products we sell. And some of the bigger farms probably have double or triple the varieties. We aren’t just growing something for the volume anymore. We are growing categories according to the taste and perception of our consumers. Marketing plays a huge role in this growth, too.”
Laying down his chef’s knife, Carl revisits the complexities hidden within each cross section of a tomato. Sight and taste converge to make an eating experience all its own, and no one color or flavor is objectively better than the next.
When a chef looks into their toolbox, I imagine they are driven by time-tested techniques as well as their own secret weapons. The knife they reach for depends entirely on the cumulative experience they have acquired.
So, maybe we should all try slicing into something new. Pick up that giant butcher’s knife we’ve been eyeing for months, or test our skills with the tried and true paring knife. Who knows what untapped potential we might discover.