When Sally met the ‘family’

The new Italian season beckons and Sally Wellock tells us about her first experience looking for the ‘perfect ingredient’.

It is safe to say that my first hunt for the ‘perfect ingredient’ was extremely inspiring, thanks largely to the places I went and the people I met when Dad and I visited Terracina, on the coast of Italy just outside of Rome.

One of the most interesting experiences was our trip to meet Rita at PAC Tomatoes. There I learned how their business has expanded from a small family operation, much like Wellocks, and about their history, ethics and pursuit of quality. PAC Tomatoes have developed their brand over generations by sticking to the philosophy of quality first.­­ The factory and machinery are state of the art and the science behind making the products is mind-blowing.

First Rita told me about growing the best tomatoes possible for their product. This takes place during the summer so the tomatoes can all be grown outdoors without the need for polytunnels. The tomatoes are then washed under pressure and hand crushed, before they are warmed up and spun at high speeds to separate the pulp, seeds, skin and juices. The sauce is transferred into huge drums where it is kept under high pressure to evaporate the water and create a rich, concentrated sauce. The pressure will depend on which product the sauce is for; whole tomatoes, a purée or a concentrate.

Another line is used for whole tomatoes with basil and juice. The tomatoes are washed and peeled by machine, with blades constantly rotating and slicing the tomatoes delicately down the middle. The belt the tomatoes are on pulses, which pushes the skin off the tomato, after which the tomatoes make their way down a belt where skilled hands choose the best and separate them from any poor quality or damaged ones. Tins and glass jars are then filled by hand and machinery, topped up and sealed.

As a health obsessive, I questioned Rita on her use of pesticides and chemicals when growing tomatoes. It was great to hear that every year their number one goal is to use pest management in order to minimise use of chemicals, which means they have an organic range of products where no pesticides are used at all.

The entire process makes PAC Tomato creates a ‘perfect ingredient’, which we are delighted to be able to bring to your kitchens. One of the things that impressed me is how the chefs in the area use these perfect ingredients to create food that does not rely on techniques and complex flavours that compete to overpower one another. Rather, each ingredient is simply cooked with herbs and olive oil to allow the true flavour of each to shine individually. This is only possible due to the outstanding quality and their knowledge of the produce.

This was clearly demonstrated to me when I tried the PAC Tomatoes, placed on top of some plain spaghetti where just two simple flavours complemented each other fantastically; this is a perfect example where less is certainly more.

At our next stop off we met Primo and Massimo at their small artisan Italian produce market that they run in Terracina. Through an in-depth discussion, they began to grasp and understand our philosophy: quality is the most important thing.

We were shown some fantastic products such as the unique egg mushroom, something neither dad or I had ever seen before. It’s like an egg with a white mushroom shell and the main mushroom is the vibrant yellow yolk. We tasted these later, grated raw, just as you would with a truffle, onto fresh tagliatelle. They were delicious, and it had a meaty texture.

Borlotti and chicory beans were among the fantastic finds from the market, quite simply stunning in quality, colour and taste and the chicory we discovered was a peppery explosion of flavour. I found the trip an extremely interesting experience and it fired my passion to get more involved in product knowledge and the stories behind the ‘perfect ingredients’. The people, places and produce were all magnificent and it was a pleasure to be part of the journey.

November 2013