Growers Mark Wales, president of the Garlic Growers Association of Ontario, and Peter McClusky, organizer of the 4th annual Toronto Garlic Festival at Evergreen Brick Works Sept. 21, were happy to explain.
“Ontario garlic is the freshest you can get and it’s grown under strict conditions,” says Wales, “and much of the crop grown organically or close to it.”
He says Chinese garlic may be eight months old and pretty dried out by the time it gets here.
As for the price difference, Wales says the hardneck garlic that suits our climate is labour-intensive. Growers break apart the bulbs to plant in the fall, the twisty scapes are snapped off in June to send energy to the bulb and the mature bulb is trimmed by hand, cleaned and dried.
“Every time you handle it costs you money,” says Wales, one of 22 growers who sold different garlic varieties at the festival, each with its own flavour, for planting right now.
McClusky, who’s writing a history of Ontario garlic, says it’s worth every penny for its superior flavour.
“Locally grown garlic is about half the price of a postage stamp per meal. It’s easy to smell and taste the difference.”
More than 20 chefs sold samples of their favourite garlic dishes at the festival, including honey garlic ribs, porchetta sandwiches and a soup made with 4,000 cloves of roasted Ontario garlic.
I even tried a surprisingly yummy butter tart made with almost sweet black garlic produced by Andrew Craig of Ottawa, but missed the dark chocolate truffles with black garlic and chocolate ice cream, both delicious, apparently.
It was an intense day.
Hard vs. Soft
• Ontario’s hardneck garlic sports one ring of large cloves, typically five to seven per bulb. The most popular strain is Music, named after grower Al Music.
• Softneck garlic bulbs have 10 to 20 cloves in two rings. They usually grow in warmer climates such as California, Mexico and China. Since this type can be planted mechanically and doesn’t produce a scape, it’s much less labour-intensive.
Ottawa’s Andrew Craig brought his Major Craig’s fermented black garlic to this year’s festival. Local chefs have been using these rich, buttery cloves to add a savoury flavour to everything from pasta to steak., The soft black cloves, popular in Korea, take a month to prepare.
Buy & Store
• If you don’t see Ontario garlic in stores, ask for it.
• To buy Ontario garlic near you, check out the map at torontogarlicfestival.ca
• Store whole bulbs (a.k.a. heads) for several months.
• Keep cool and dry. Do not refrigerate.
• A ceramic garlic keeper shades cloves from direct light while allowing some air movement.
• Garlic with the stem on or braided tends to store well.
• Remove the bulb’s papery outer layers and break into cloves ready to slice, chop, mince or roast.
• To peel, cut off the hard end of each clove, place the flat side of a chef’s knife over top and give it a short, sharp whack. Peel off and discard the now-loose skin.
• Garlic burns easily, so add after you’ve begun sautéing onions.
• To infuse olive oil with a touch of garlic, add a squashed clove as the oil heats and remove when golden.
• To neutralize garlic’s smell, hold hands under cold running water while rubbing with a stainless steel serving spoon or against the faucet for 10 seconds.
• Roasting mellows and sweetens garlic’s pungent flavour.
• Remove most of the papery layers without disturbing cloves.
• Cut a slice to expose the top of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil.
• Wrap in foil and roast at 400F (200C) for 50 minutes, until soft, sweet and jammy.
• Squeeze roasted garlic paste into salads and sauces, mix with mayo for sandwiches, spread on toast to make garlic bread or rub on chicken before baking.
• Growing garlic is easy when you have full sun.
• Buy bulbs from a farmers market – imported garlic rarely works.
• Separate cloves and plant between the end of September and Thanksgiving.
• Cut off twirly scapes in late spring before they flower. Thirty days later, your garlic will be ready to harvest.
2 bulbs (heads) Ontario garlic
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-1/2 cups (900 mL) chicken stock
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) sea salt or to taste
1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp (15 mL) rice vinegar
Peel outer papery layers from each garlic head. Slice off top part of heads to expose cloves.
Place each head in a square of aluminum foil, drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and twist foil closed. Roast in preheated 400F (200C) oven about 50 minutes, until garlic is soft and golden. Discard foil. (Try to cook something else at the same time to save energy!)
Meanwhile, melt butter on medium heat in large, heavy-bottomed pot. Sauté onions about 20 minutes or until caramelized, stirring often so they don’t burn. Add carrots and celery. Cover and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Squeeze or spoon roasted garlic from its skin into the pot. Add stock and bring to a boil. Cook another 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add thyme, salt and pepper.
Purée soup with a hand-held stick blender, or in a blender, until thick and creamy. Add vinegar and check seasoning.
Makes 5 cups (1.25 L)