Friday, 27 September 2013

A Garlic Tasting

Ann's Italian, Azores, Bogatyr, Ferganskij, Fish Lake, Foundling, and Tibetan Garlic

A few of years ago, after attending the Stratford Garlic Festival, we ended up growing 9 kinds of garlic. We thought that was a bit excessive, and that we should assess them systematically, and pare down the number. Last year we eliminated 2 of them because they were not healthy, so this year we are down to 7 kinds. (One of them was Music, a bit oddly.) Still a bit much! I can't keep track of them, and just grab one at random. We want to know: which are the best raw? Cooked? Of course, we also have to consider how well they grow in the garden and how good a crop they produce as well.

We are getting ready to plant our garlic within the next week, so it was time to do that assessment and eliminate a few. Is there really much difference between types of garlic? I have to say, while they were all noticeably garlic, the flavour profiles did vary quite a bit. We sampled each garlic raw, and then I cooked a small slice in a neutral vegetable oil for 45 seconds to one minute, until just showing faint signs of browning. One thing that quickly became clear was that our cool, rainy summer had a big impact on our garlic flavour. It was very weak in general compared to other years. Still, we went ahead and rated everything. We seem to get a cool, rainy summer about one year out of every 5, so it's not like it's an aberration.

We gave everything but Ann's Italian a 10 for storage - they were all still just barely showing signs of sprouting and the occasional bad clove when we harvested the new crop in July, except Ann's which had pooped out in mid-spring, thus earning an 8 out of 10 points.

We realised that when eaten raw, garlic has 2 noticeable layers of flavour: an initial burst of pungency, or heat, and then the underlying characteristic garlic flavour. The pungency disappears when the garlic is cooked, and the garlic flavour also changes, meaning that garlics can be quite different raw and cooked.

Ann's Italian: 
This is an unusual garlic that we chose to grow because it often produces extra cloves further up the stem; a double decker garlic. More interesting to me is that it is a semi-softneck garlic meaning that if I wanted to make a garlic braid, this would be a very good candidate.

The bad news is that in every other way it was at the bottom of the list of garlics we grow. We gave it a rating of 5 out of 10 for production (healthy growth and size of bulbs), that 8 out of 10 for storage, a 6 out of 10 for raw flavour and a 5 out of 10 for cooked flavour.

The flavour ratings may have been slightly affected by the fact that it was the first garlic we tried, but we were shocked by how, well, bland it was. Both raw and cooked it was weakly flavoured, and when cooked it had a slight bitter aftertaste. Raw, it had a good sharp horseradishy pungency to start, but it faded very quickly leaving... not much. It may have been better in a better year, but we both agreed that this was an easy elimination.

Azores (Azores Portuguese):
This one was a complete contrast to the Ann's Italian.  The flavour was strong and dark, earthy and almost harsh, but in a good way.The initial pungency was slower to build than in Ann's Italian, and lasted longer. It was never quite as sharp, but the flavour, in addition to being much stronger, lingered in the mouth.Cooked, it was still quite strong and earthy in flavour, but well-balanced.

The bulbs were large, and rated an 8 out of 10 for production, an 8 for raw flavour, and an 8 for cooked flavour.

This was one we picked up at the Stratford Garlic Festival (as was the Ann's Italian) and I don't know much about it beyond that not surprising fact that it was brought over to Canada from the Azores. We agreed that we will continue to grow this one.

Bogatyr is a fairly well-known and popular variety from Russia. The name means "hero" in Russian, and it is said to have originated near Moscow. It's a purple striped hardneck garlic with 4 to 7 cloves, and is one of our largest garlics along with Azores.

In contrast to the Azores, this seemed light and sprightly in flavour, although not weak. Nicely pungent but not too lingering, the phrase we kept repeating was "well balanced". It rated an 8 for production quality, an impressive 8.5 for raw flavour (the highest rating we gave) and an 8 for cooked flavour. Yes, we are keeping this one.

Another garlic from the Stratford Garlic Festival, Ferganskij was collected by John Swenson of the Seed Savers Exchange in a Samarkand (Uzbekistan) bazaar. Alas, in spite of this romantic history and source in the original homeland of garlic, it did not generally rate well.

It received a fairly wimpy 5 out of 10 for production, an unimpressive 5 out of 10 for raw flavour - it was surprisingly weak and bland, lacking in pungency - and an amazing 8.5 for cooked flavour: rich, nutty and well-balanced. This was the highest rating we gave for cooked flavour, but a few others were close on its heels, so we decided that did not justify our planting it again, and it was eliminated.

Fish Lake:
Here is a classic garlic, well-known amongst Canadian garlic lovers. Ted Maczka, a Polish immigrant to Ontario after World War II worked as a tool and die maker, but garlic farming was his true passion and calling. In the late 1970's and 1980's, he did much to publicise the fact that Ontario has the climate to produce great garlic, and to provide the necessary material for other growers. He became known as The Fish Lake Garlic Man, and this is the garlic that bears the Fish Lake name.

So, how does it rate? It received a 9 out of 10 for production quality, the highest rating in that category. This is a truly robust and healthy garlic. For flavour, though, it rated a 6 out of 10 raw, and a 6.5 cooked - good, but not great. Fresh, flavour was mild but built slightly. Mr. Ferdzy thought it had a faint bitter aftertaste when cooked. It was similar to Ferganskij in flavour profile, but weaker overall.

Foundling: aka The Meaford Weed:
About 4 years ago, we were driving along a side road just outside of Meaford. "Stop the car! Stop the car!" I yelled. Mr. Ferdzy stopped the car. "Back up! Back up!" Mr. Ferdzy backed up. "GARLIC!" And sure enough, it was. Around the ruins of a long-burnt down house straight scapes topped with garlic bulbils waved above the grass and weeds. We collected the best-looking specimens, and brought them home and planted them. Those first specimens were extremely puny, but they have gotten bigger and better every year as they return to a healthy cultivated state.

Meaford has a history as a garlic growing town; I keep meaning to do some research on when it started and where the garlic would have come from. We have since realised that there is garlic growing in the ditches all over the place throughout town, including just down the street and on our next-door neighbours property.

We gave it a rating of 7 out of 10 for production quality, although we hope it is still improving. For raw flavour it rated a 7.5 out of 10, and for cooked flavour a 7.5 out of 10. So overall, not the best of the garlics but a good solid second tier, and given its local history we intend to keep growing it. Fresh, it had low pungency and an even, balanced yet lingering aftertaste. Cooked, it was mild yet rich and nutty and still maintained a trace of pungency.

In previous years, Tibetan stood out as tasting distinctly different from any other garlic we grew, being particularly hot and pungent. This year, that pungency just wasn't there. It does make us a little uneasy that in a hot, dry summer our garlic ratings might be quite different. Still, as I noted, it's not like cool, wet summers don't happen regularly, so on we go...

Tibetan is up there with Azores and Bogatyr for size, and rated 8 out of 10 for production quality. This year it achieved a 7 out of 10 for raw flavour and an 8 for cooked flavour. Raw, it was mild and even with a lasting flavour. Cooked, it was nutty, well-balanced and fairly strong. Last year we rated it as very hot, but not lingering in flavour when raw - quite different.


RuckusButt said...

What a great post! Thank you also for the link to you post on Music garlic.

I love the garlic tasting idea, that is right up my alley. Good thing you are both into it! ;-)

Did you do the tastings all at once? I wonder if you feel that perhaps your tasts might have been different if you had tried them in a different order? Sounds like you were still able to taste differences, so that's the important part.

I very much enjoy Music and that is what I grow but that's mostly because I don't have many other varieties to choose from.

I would love to get to a garlic festival or other venue to pick up some different varieties. I just haven't found different sets available. Garlic is the one crop we don't seem to grow enough of ourselves (still learning) and end up panicing to buy good braids before they sell out. I can't stand having to buy the stuff from the store!

Ferdzy said...

Hi Ruckus;

yes, we tasted them all at once. We ate a little piece of plain bread between each bite to clear our palates. I don't think trying them in a different order would have made a big difference, although I DO think that if we had done this last year the results might have been different!

We thought Music was a good garlic but ours got some kind of fungus, so we eliminated it, since we were looking for reasons to eliminate s few varieties anyway.

Carp had a garlic festival in August, and so did Perth... maybe next year!

RuckusButt said...

Yes, I've been meaning to make it to the Perth festivale for years (and years!).

I have heard that Music can be hard to store and is prone to molding. I haven't had this problem so far, fortunately.

I like your use of bread to clear your palates. Certianly, last year would have been very different but likely even less representative than this year, since we don't have serious droughts like that as frequently as we have wet years.

TheHealthyHomemaker said...

Great information! Love the Meaford garlic story...reminds me of what I'm like in the car during asparagus season. I'm not sure what kind of garlic I'm planting this year. My father in law grows over 200 head of garlic each year and he's been growing the same ones for years and years. He's originally from Portugal, so I'll have to ask him if that's where it's from. Didn't realize Stratford had a garlic festival. I'm in Hamilton and the father in law says to plant the garlic right around Halloween, but I am impatient and might do it soon since you mentioned next week!

Ferdzy said...

Ruckus, it's actually very dry here most summers. We are in a micro-climate affected by the Niagara escarpment and it tends to collect any rain clouds and then send them over us empty, while we curse and try out new rain-dances in the hopes of getting a break, just a little break, from constantly irrigating. So last year was extreme for us but not really unusual. This year was unusual.

HealthyHomemaker, I can never spot asparagus until it has leafed out, so I'm impressed! Really, you can plant your garlic much earlier than most people say. It may send up a few green shoots, but not a problem. The stuff is tough and a little extra time in the ground tends to make it bigger in the end, in my opinion. For me the big limiting factor is working it into the garden rotation - something has to come out before it can go in.