Garlic, it’s in everybody’s home, whether you are an expert baker, chef, beginner cook, a perpetual take out consumer. Even a health nut who relies on garlic’s many beneficial health properties, like boosting immunity has a few bulbs of garlic on hand. It lives on the counter, in the crisper, in your cupboard marinating in oils, or in capsule form in your medicine cabinet. Garlic is a true staple for whatever your purpose, medicinal or culinary. Its popularity is international and it is used in almost every ethnicity of food around the world.
As a chef it’s easy to fall into a routine of ordering products that save on money and time. Unfortunately, I think garlic is one of those products that gets overlooked by busy food establishments and when it is used it is most commonly ordered in bulk and pre-peeled for convenience of preparation time, which means it has lost its freshness. Garlic is something I use multiple times a day in savoury and sweet dishes. What I have learned from dabbling in food writing and getting to spend more time in my kitchen at home is that garlic should be as fresh as possible and sourced as close to home as possible. With garlic planting season upon us, what a perfect time of year to learn more about this versatile product!
The organic garlic farmers at Dunridge Farms just outside of Collingwood are gearing up to plant next year’s crop for the Spring 2018 harvest. Dunridge Farms grows a Hardneck combination garlic called Hawkwind. Hardneck garlic varieties stand out in taste by their rich bold flavours and they add tremendous depth regardless of the method used to cook them.The firm Hardneck garlic stalk comes out the centre of the bulb and also produces garlic scapes, excellent products that can add a twist on the traditional pesto.
The town of Tiny Ontario is home to Bulbs of Fire garlic farmers. Their products are well known at many popular farmers markets north of the city and they are making a presence on shelves in retail stores. Their passion of garlic is delivered in their products. They grown over 35 different strains of heirloom garlic and they have a tone of knowledge to back each one. Their websites offer pictures and descriptions of each type of garlic they grow. It is the perfect website to visit if you want to learn more about specific garlic varieties.
As I am learning there are many different varieties of garlic, but what I suggest is be adventurous and try a few different ones to see what differences you notice. After all, every taste pallet is different; some like a real punch of flavour that lasts on your tongue and some like a milder flavour that keeps you from holding your hand over your mouth while talking with friends. The most common variety purchased at a grocery store is soft neck garlic, which can range in taste from mild to strong and likely travels a longer distance to reach your grocery store. I will forever be picky about my garlic and head straight for the Hardneck garlic.
Here are a few simple guidelines to follow while choosing garlic, storing garlic and using garlic.
– You want your garlic to be completely dry and the cloves to look plump and firm.
– Make sure the skin or sheath is plentiful and papery.
– Stay away from garlic that looks soft and shrivelled and if you see green shoots coming out of the garlic it means it is past its prime.
– Storing garlic is equally as important as picking it. Garlic should be kept whole with sheath on and in a well-ventilated place such as wire mesh basket or an open paper bag. If you keep it in a dry dark place, you can count on a few months’ supply and sometimes up up to a year, depending on the variety.
What variety to use when:
– Hardneck garlic is going to give you more of a pungent flavour and Softneck garlic will be a more mild flavour, generally speaking.
– If using garlic raw, you want to look for a variety that packs a punch such as French Red Rocambole. Great for garlic butter or raw in salad dressings. If you want a more mild raw garlic look for Inchellium Red from the Softneck variety.
– If roasting, you want to use a variety that has some natural sweetness such as Music from the Porcelaine variety. Music also happens to be Ontario’s most widely grown strain.
Remember, fresh is best! And the freshest garlic will come out of your garden!