Tomato grower Wim Vertommen, Den Overkant:

“Belgians prefer redder beefsteak tomatoes”

“It’s relatively difficult to grow beefsteak tomatoes, but it’s a satisfying production,” says tomato grower Wim Vertommen of Den Overkant from Sint-Katelijne-Waver, Belgium. His enthusiasm makes it clear the grower is passionate about his job, and it’s that passion that ensures he can supply the quality he wants, according to Wim. 

Tomato grower Wim Vertommen of Den Overkant is specialised in growing beefsteak tomatoes.

For eight years now, the grower has been active in beefsteak tomatoes. It started as a small production on a small surface, but is now growing into a larger plot. From March until December Wim and his team are dedicated to the production. “We started growing beefsteak tomatoes in addition to our regular tomatoes on a surface of 5,000 square metres eight years ago,” Wim continues. “Each year, 3,000 square metres is added to that. The surface is now large enough to supply larger supermarkets without problems. In total, that’s about two million kilos per year.”

Export to Southern Europe
Although Den Overkant’s tomatoes are grown and sold in Belgium, a large part of the harvest is also shipped to countries such as France, Spain and Italy. Although the production of beefsteak tomatoes occurs in plastic greenhouses there, and is popular among the population, Wim can be a competitive player with his Flemish tomatoes in Southern Europe.”The Belgian market for beefsteak tomatoes is fairly stable, but we’ve seen a rising line in demand in Southern Europe,” the tomato grower says. “Because we grow the tomatoes in greenhouses and have plenty of water available, we can grow the tomatoes evenly, which isn’t always as easy in Southern Europe. They’re more dependent on the weather. It’s even the case that our tomatoes are shipped to tomato country Italy, where people enjoy eating them. Not just our quality is good, we’re also strict when selecting the tomatoes, we don’t sell tomatoes of poorer quality.”

Beefsteak tomatoes ripen from the inside out. The tomatoes shouldn’t be consumed when they’re as (dark) red as vine tomatoes.

Because demand for shape, colour or size is different for every customer, Wim carefully plans how the harvesting is done. “When I know it’ll be some days before they’re on supermarket shelves, I keep that in mind when harvesting,” he says. “When transport takes longer, the tomatoes are picked when they’re still greener than when that’s not the case. Although customers don’t ask for this, I make sure all customers get what they ordered that way. Regardless of how long the tomatoes are in transit or what the requirements are.”

The orange spot
To ensure only the best beefsteak tomatoes leave the company, a strict monitoring and selective procedure should be in place, according to Wim. “Picking beefsteak tomatoes is trickier than picking vine tomatoes. In the past, we sometimes had our best people picking the beefsteak tomatoes on our 5,000 square metres. The tomatoes have to be very green of colour, with an orange spot on the bottom of the tomato. That’s when you know the tomato is very good. Many people can’t see that, they might be slightly colourblind. The beefsteak tomatoes have to be picked at the right moment.”

Next year, Wim expects to grow beefsteak tomatoes on four hectares.

Although the tomato shouldn’t be too light, but not too red either, when picked, there’s a difference in demand for the tomato. “Belgian consumers prefer a slightly redder beefsteak tomato,” Wim says. “Italians prefer a greener and larger variant. Because we have multiple production fields, we can respond very well to customers’ demand. If we were to consider requirements such as colour, shape and size on only one field, it would become nearly impossible. Because we have multiple large production fields, we can produce separately from each other quite easily. Each production field can then be guided differently, to ensure we can offer both red and green tomatoes to the customer, which are both of good quality.”

The beefsteak tomatoes ripen differently compared to vine tomatoes. Beefsteak tomatoes start ripening on the inside, and not on the outside.

Versatile tomato
Whether the tomato is eaten green or red: according to Wim anything is possible with the tomato. “When the beefsteak tomato is green, it can be easily used as decoration on plates, like carpaccio, for example,” he says. “The tomato is also very nice to eat with some herbs and mozzarella, both when it’s red and green. If the tomato is turning red, flavour can become a bit mealier, but you shouldn’t throw it away in that case. It can still be used to stir-fry or it can be made into soup. People cook less and less often, and meals such as frozen pizza are becoming more obvious. The pizza can be made more special by adding some beefsteak tomato to it.”

By packing their own product, Wim ensures the tomatoes are all the right colour, shape and ripening.

Den Overkant’s tomatoes can be found at the BelOrta auction in Sint-Katelijne-Waver.

For more information:
Den Overkant
Koelarenvelden 8
2861 Sint-Katelijne-Waver (Belgium)
T: +32 15 76 12 60

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