Originally from South America, the Licopersicon species of flowering plants, including tomatoes, was introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Thought to be a poisonous, it was first cultivated for its ornamental value. Only in the middle of the 18th century did the tomato fruit appear in the kitchen. The extensive cultivation of tomatoes in Parma was dues to the agronomist Carlo Rognoni who started planting tomatoes in open fields in 1876 at his farm in Panocchia (PR).
During the following years, he helped spread the cultivation of tomatoes, suggesting that others rotate them with wheat. Since the beginning, the cultivation of tomatoes has been tied to industrialization and researchers are always looking for new varieties. The first news of the “rosso grosso” (big red) dates back to 1905, the year in witch professor Bernardi-Tolomei of Pilastro, experimented with some new tomato varieties at the farm of the Cerdelli brothers. He crossed them with the “Nizzarda”, the first tomato cultivated in Parma. During the following years, the Costoluto di Parma variety became the tomato used most often to make tomato paste. Until the end of the 1930s, it was still the most widely cultivated variety in northern and central Italy. Rognoni realized that in order for the tomato to have a real future, there needed to be a way to conserve it. The pioneers of the tomato industry (Mutti, Pagani, Rodolfi, Pezziol and others) created their own tomato dynasties, many of which are still active today. However, the invention that really made the tomato industry take off in Parma was called the “Stazione Sperimentale delle Conserve” (Experimental Conservation Station).
This technical, scientific center was founded in 1922. Since then, the organization has been responsible for technological innovation, business aide and the quality control of millions of tons of local tomatoes used to make tomato products of all kinds. The other invention that came about in Parma is related to the business side of the operation. The Mostra delle Conserve (a food show now known as CIBUS) has attracted people to Parma since the 1940s. Today, Parma exports its prized tomatoes throughout the world and is home to the most important Italian food show.