Producer Matthew Simon tells us how modern methods and expertise create the tastiest Finest Piccolo tomatoes…
When are Finest Piccolo tomatoes in season in the UK?
Those planted in January can be harvested from the start of April onwards, but this year was slower because of the poor light levels in spring. We can control variables like temperature to prolong the season; the only thing you can’t control is daylight, so we source tomatoes from Spain from November. We’d never put a crop out for the sake of it because our priority is always produce that tastes good; that’s why we turn to Spain when the weather gives in.
How do you ensure Piccolos are at their best when they reach customers?
We take care to pack tomatoes on the day of harvest and get them to Tesco the next day. Tomatoes naturally contain ripening agents, so customers can be confident that they are ready to eat.
What makes British tomatoes special?
Customers tell us that British tomatoes are important to them. They want to support British growers and there may be that element of nostalgia with the memories for grandparents growing tomatoes at home. British tomatoes are seasonal and available from April to November. Our British tomatoes are grown by experts in state of the art facilities. Only the best varieties are chosen that really deliver on quality and flavour.
Are Piccolo tomatoes tricky to grow?
They are difficult to grow because their disease resistance is so low. We persist with them because, apart from the fact they look so good on the vine, they’re one of the best-tasting varieties you can find. Piccolo tomatoes are labour intensive, so we have dedicated harvesters. The team makes sure the Piccolo tomatoes are getting along OK; they select trusses and keep the tomatoes clean. It’s a fiddly, selective job that’s done by hand because no machine could give it the right level of attention.
Have modern methods improved homegrown tomato crops?
Tomatoes have always been a strong crop in the UK, but the technology has got better and gives us better quality and yield. We use glass houses that are about 6.5m tall, everything inside is computer controlled, from shading to temperature sensors. We’ve now got much better accuracy, so we can reduce the amount of fuel needed to heat the glass houses and treat the tomatoes better.
How do you care for the environment?
We’ve been influenced by organic methods and more natural ways of growing, we use something called bio control which is insects to control insects. The plants respond well to it. We also run energy evaluations with the Carbon Trust to make sure that our practices are in balance with the environment.
Do you work with Tesco to develop new varieties?
Tomato selection starts with consumer research and focus groups. This feedback is shared with our growers and breeders. This is very important as it takes around 6/7 years to fully develop a new variety of tomato. Our growers working together with the seed houses will also trial new material throughout the year. This material is monitored closely with the grower through benchmarking, tasting and customer panels so only the best tomatoes are chosen. We listen to our customers and work together with our growers, to deliver great tasting tomatoes.
See all tomato recipes here.