Mutti: The Family Business Bringing Tomatoes to a Sustainable World
You might think you know about tomatoes. I mean, you’ve had them, cooked with them, grown them that one time in the garden that died, maybe even thrown them at bad comedians… but do you really know about tomatoes? How many generations of your family have devoted their lives to the singular pursuit of growing and preparing the perfect tomato? How many hundreds of years ago did your family patriarch pioneer the practice of crop rotation in farming so as to grow a healthier, more nutritious tomato? How is your partnership with the World Wildlife Fund going, in which you revolutionized sustainability in tomato agriculture, saving billions of liters of water consumption when growing crops, and curbing tens of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from farming practices? And, while you were at it, did you share your techniques with other farmers so that we might all have a healthier, happier world?
No, I didn’t think so. When it comes to tomatoes, unless your surname is Mutti, you are probably just a dilettante.
When browsing Rouses Markets store shelves, you can recognize a Mutti tomato product by its famed logo: twin golden lions. But even without seeing the packaging, you can know you are enjoying a Mutti product based on its award-winning flavor.
The company was established 1899 in the province of Parma, the famed culinary capital of Italy. (It resides in a place literally called “Food Valley.”) The Mutti family had been growing tomatoes for much longer than that, of course: as early as 1850, Giovanni Mutti was developing techniques in organic agriculture still used today by farmers the world over. But in 1899, Giovanni’s nephews decided to take the Mutti tomato big time, founding a company and investing in new techniques in processing and distributing their product. Within a decade, they had invented what would eventually be called tomato concentrate, and not long after that, advanced their factory process in order to sell their products in small, household containers rather than the then-conventional industrial size. The Italian kitchen was never the same again.
Italian food is synonymous with “family,” and when World War I broke out, Mutti treated tomato growers across the region as family, essentially propping up Parma’s agricultural sector so that farmers wouldn’t starve. After things settled down in Europe, the company continued innovating—and if you didn’t know about this, I’m about to change your life—inventing tubed tomato paste in 1951. Canned tomato paste is great, but sometimes you don’t need a flavor explosion; you just need a flavor blast, and tubed tomato paste should be your weapon of choice. A spoonful of the stuff will work wonders in more dishes than you can count, and unlike the canned variety, you can cap it and stick it back in the fridge for reuse weeks later.
By now, you have a pretty good idea that the Mutti family doesn’t rest on its laurels, but that’s not even the half of it. In 1971, they invented a new type of canned tomato product called “polpa”— or finely-chopped—tomatoes, which were a revolution at the time and remain Mutti’s most famous product. (Polpa tomatoes work in any recipe with a short cooking time or in need of high heat). Then, in 2004—when they had been steadily working miracles with tomatoes for more than 100 years—they invented something you might not yet have tried. Once you do, you’ll write me letters of gratitude. They invented tomato vinegar, which is like a mellow red wine vinegar, perfect for preparing marinades for chicken or beef, and even better when you make salad dressing from scratch. Just substitute the vinegar called for in the recipe with tomato vinegar and prepare yourself for an entirely new and vibrant flavor profile.
Today, the Mutti line also includes tomato sauces (pasta to pizza), ketchups, purees and pestos. They offer a certified organic line of its products, which was a natural outgrowth of their commitment to sustainable and clean farming practices, and their five-year partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. Mutti remains a family-run business and a fixture in Parma, dedicated to helping the farmers of Italy innovate, and tomato culture and cuisine around the world thrive.