Talking tomatoes

Veneto Gardens in Newcastle
By: Gloria Young, Reporter
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Oven-dried tomatoes
One of the ways Veneto Gardens’ Dave Faoro enjoys cherry tomatoes is oven dried.
Cut them in half and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven at the lowest heat setting.
“Leave them there until they become a little leathery,” he said. “You don’t want them dry as a bone. They should still be moist in the middle.”
They are great as a pizza topping or even as a snack. They will last for weeks in the fridge and months in the freezer.
“Don’t leave them out on the counter he said. “The intensity of the taste is like eating fruit leather.”

Grower Dave Faoro loves gardening but he has a special affinity for tomatoes.

At his Veneto Gardens in Newcastle, he tends nearly 60 varieties of all shapes and sizes.

“That’s my thing,” he said. “I like tomatoes. They taste good.”

Faoro’s roots run deep in Italy’s Venice region.

“My dad’s family is from there,” he said. “Our climate is similar. You see the farms and things growing and you would think you were in the Central Valley … .(My family) has had vegetable gardens forever. My father and grandfather had them. In Italian families, you always have a vegetable garden and tomatoes are always there.”

Faoro gardens with two goals at the forefront.

“One is trying to find very nice new types of tomatoes that I want to pursue,” he said. “The other goal is supporting the Placer Food Bank. It’s not just about producing some cool types of tomatoes. I also need to grow a lot of tomatoes that people want to buy and eat.”

He also works with breeders in testing new varieties.

“I am always trying out new things,” he said. “I get small amounts of seed to (test). Then I write up a review for (the breeder) — what I think about it, how well it grows, my thoughts about taste and where I think it needs improvement.”

And he does his own experiments, working to create a certain size, color and taste by combining two varieties.

“One started from seed my family brought me from Italy,” he said. “I’ve been working on that for a few years — trying to make it into something a little different. It’s a hobby.”   

When doing a test variety, he grows two plants and places each in a separate area of the garden. 

“I’m trying to get a little bit of sampling of how they might grow and not just in one place,” he said.

The technical aspects to appeal to him.

“I have a science background. I look at things from a scientific approach,” he said. “I made a career in software engineering. My first degree was in biology. My biology is always there and science and observation are part of me.”

His collaboration with breeders started about five years ago.

“Typically, I go through every year and make notes about how plants are growing and producing and what fruit tastes like,” he said. “Then I make a decision in December on what is going to make the cut.”

For harvest bounty, he grows the Big Beef and First Prize varieties of red beefsteak tomatoes.

Then there’s an abundance of cherry tomatoes.

“The ones that do well are the Juliets (red, plum shaped with a balanced taste), Sungold (orange and extremely sweet) and Nugget (golden color, oval and mild taste). They are very good. Throw them into  salads or just pop them into your mouth.”

Many of his experimental types are saladettes.

“They are bigger than cherry tomatoes and smaller than slicing tomatoes,” he said. “What is nice is that they are probably in the size range of two inches long by an inch-and-a-half around. You cut them into quarters and they are great for salads.

He grows saladettes in numerous colors, among them the Clementine (orange) and Lucinda (green/yellow stripes).

“They have interesting flavors, hold their shape and have depth,” he said. “The flavor of these goes well with a simple vinegar and oil dressing. You don’t need to use the heavy flavored salad dressings.”
In his view, the tomato is often underestimated.

“You can talk about tomatoes the same way you talk about wines — taste and smell — all the nuances,” he said. “You have tomato tastings and people realize they have all these different flavors — not like what you buy at the store.”

He sells his produce at a small farmstand on the property and also has a customer mailing list for special orders.