Produce Pete: Spring’s Best-Tasting Tomato

A variety so special, it got a shoutout on The Sopranos.

Campari tomatoes
Part of the tomatoes-on-the-vine category, Campari tomatoes are sweet, juicy and high in lycopene, an antioxidant which has cancer-fighting properties. Photo courtesy of Susan Bloom

If you’re a fan of mine, you know I’m a longtime tomato lover.

You may also know that supermarket tomatoes are often picked unripe so that by the time they arrive at a supermarket, they still look appealing. (Many such tomatoes end up tasting like cardboard.)

If you want a tomato that truly tastes like the homegrown kind, especially during winter and early spring, the only choice is a Campari, also known as a cocktail tomato. Smaller than other varieties, a Campari offers way more flavor than larger, potentially bland tomatoes. It’s truly worth a taste.


The Campari enjoyed far more than 15 minutes of fame when it was featured on a 2002 episode of The Sopranos. The following year, sales of Camparis increased by over 50 percent.

Produce Pete discussing Campari tomatoes for NBC

Produce Pete discusses the virtues of Campari tomatoes in a recent segment for NBC’s Weekend Today in New York, filmed from his home. Photo courtesy of Pete Napolitano/NBC

High in lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant, Campari tomatoes are recognized for their juiciness, high sugar, low acidity and lack of mealiness—traits that contribute to their signature taste. Camparis are deep red, larger than cherry tomatoes but smaller and rounder than plum tomatoes. They can be produced from different varieties, such as Mountain Magic, and are grown throughout the U.S. and offshore. They are often sought-after in cooked dishes where tomatoes with a high sugar content are desired.

The Campari tomato is a hybrid that was developed for the late-20th-century market. Camparis were branded from the beginning as the “tomato lover’s tomato” to distinguish them from the more than 6,000 varieties that werealready on the market. That tagline was so convincing that they became a supermarket favorite with a few years. Though Camparis currently account for less than five percent of total tomato sales in the U.S., according to, their popularity is relatively high for a single variety.

Camparis are redder than most store-bought tomatoes because they’re grown hydroponically and ripened on the vine, which also eliminates the need for pesticides. In supermarkets, Camparis fall into the “tomatoes-on-the-vine” (TOV) variety, which has become increasingly popular over the years.

Because they’re transported with their vines still attached, they continue to ripen naturally in transit. This means they don’t have to be artificially ripened with ethylene gas.

Available nearly year-round, Camparis are great for snacking out of hand, and are often served fresh over salads, mozzarella or specialty meats. They’re delicious roasted and served on pizza, sandwiches or in salsa. They also make a superb bruschetta, pairing wonderfully with basil and garlic.

When inspecting Campari tomatoes at the store, make sure they’re all still connected to the vine. (If they’re not, they’re likely overripe.) Store Camparis on the kitchen counter in an open container at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, until they’re completely ripe. Don’t refrigerate them—it kills their flavor, texture and nutrients.

My wife, Bette, likes to make her own tomato sauce. When she runs out of her summer tomatoes, she uses Camparis as a great fallback. (While Camparis can sometimes be expensive in winter, they can also go on sale very suddenly, so we’re always on the lookout for them.)

For a fresh, simple and savory side dish, check out Bette’s tasty Campari Tomato Salad Italiano, which showcases this delicious tomato’s star qualities.


  • 3-4 Campari tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar to taste

Quarter the tomatoes and place them in a salad bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well. Toss again right before serving, and enjoy!

About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and TV personality who’s appeared on a highly popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York Saturday mornings for over 28 years. His memoir, They Call Me Produce Pete, is out now. For more information, visit

About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.

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