The Garlic Tasting

by Talley and Beryl

in Methods,Misc

After leaving the farm of our neighbors Gwen and Fred (generous benefactors of the apples used to make last week’s tart), we went to Gwen’s son Sam and daughter-in-law Sue’s place.  In addition to pigs and pears, Sam grew garlic this year. LOADS of garlic.  Different cultivars, different colors, different names and, we wondered, different tastes?  Different textures? Different ways of cooking?  Before we walked out of that garlic shed, we had no fewer than 25 heads of garlic and we were promising to do a thorough and unbiased garlic tasting, and promising to send a full report.  So, what follows is that report.  Sam, we would like to thank you for the garlic (and Anjou pears), and for the excuse it gave us to go up north to Bellingham and fool around in the kitchen with our friends for a few hours.  And, while I’m thanking Sam, I should thank the panel of judges, especially Patrick and Angela, who hosted us and let us take over their kitchen. They also gave us some canning jars, which we promptly filled with Anjou pear butter.

Panel of Judges

The Panel of Judges. All judges were required to possess three qualities: endurance, discriminating taste, and a willingness to stink for the remainder of the day

The Panel (from left to right):

  • Jess (who’s in Italy right now, probably eating garlic)
  • Melanie (younger sister of Beryl)
  • Julie (being sniffed by Rico, the most svelte golden retriever ever to have graced this planet)
  • Talley (future brother-in-law of Melanie)
  • Beryl (older sister of Melanie)
  • Angela (assisting Little Bear the dog, who has a spotted tongue)
  • Patrick (wine drinker extraordinaire. We used him shamelessly for his superior sensory abilities)

So: 7 kinds of garlic, 7 judges, but, amazingly, a certain amount of consensus and a couple clear favorites. To browse through the different garlics we tasted, click on the play button in the frame below, or use your arrow keys.

7 Varieties of Garlic

The Taste Test

METHODS

We prepared the garlic 2 ways: Raw, rubbed on toast with a little olive oil, and roasted and spread on toast. The roasted garlic was roasted without its peel, in individual ramekins with a generous pour of olive oil. One caveat with the roasted garlic is the possibility that different garlic varieties need varying roasting durations. For instance: the Purple Glazer came out incredibly caramelized and golden compared to the rest. We roasted all garlics for about 45 minutes at 350˚F, stirring once.

RESULTS

You would not believe how different garlics can be.  Some were sweet, some were spicy, some were earthy.  Some were better roasted, others were better raw.  In the end, we all thought that maybe we had just complicated our lives a bit; no longer can we just grab whatever garlic is available without asking, “Is this really the best garlic for the job?  Could I be better served with a clove of Lavigna right now, or perhaps a China Dawn?”  File it into the “ignorance is bliss” category. We may have to shop for garlic with new scrutiny, but, as my mom used to say, that’s the brakes, baby cakes.

Lavigna

Lavigna tasted decidedly "green," it made a lot of us appreciate just how distinct the different garlics could taste.

In order of spiciness:
Lavigna and Chesnok were determined to be the two spiciest garlics.  Raw Lavigna was really interesting.  Decidedly “green” tasting, people were saying things like “green pepper” and “Oh my God this is the spiciest garlic I’ve ever had!”  There was a lot of Woooo-ing as the spice hit.  Somebody said that the heat from Lavigna was more like that of a hot pepper, less like what they expect from garlic.  Angela was a big fan of the Lavigna.  When roasted, Lavigna was described as somewhat “savory.”  Talley was not in love with the texture of this roasted garlic and thought it became a bit pithy.

Raw Chesnok was described by Patrick as smelling “herby” and the tase was pungent and strong. We all agreed, as our nasal passages cleared out and burned, that the pungency of this garlic had a distinct similarity to wasabi. Roasted, Chesnok was thought to be sweeter than other garlics and it maintained more garlic flavor, although it might have picked up a tiny bit of bitterness upon roasting.  Patrick said, “Hmm, it starts off garlicky and it finishes…. garlicky.”  We’d had a lot of garlic at that point.

Purple Glazer and Gourmet Red

Purple Glazer (left) originated in the Republic of Georgia. Gourmet Red (right) rose to the top of our list of favorites. It was a large head of garlic with large cloves. This cultivar originated in our neighboring state of Oregon.

Gourmet Red wound up being the favorite of Julie, Melanie and Talley.  Julie tasted the raw garlic and declared, “Big bodied and juicy!” Melanie proclaimed it to be “more full flavored” than other garlics.  The spice in this one came on quick but was not overwhelming, Talley thought it to be a “very nice garlic, good balance, well rounded.”  Roasted, Melanie thought it had a nice flavor with good texture.  Delicious!

Purple Glazer was the first raw garlic we tasted and therefore we did not yet have a basis for comparison.  It had a moderate amount of spice.  Somebody said, “Mmm.  Garlic.  Pleasant,” and everybody else agreed.  Later though, once we’d moved on to roasting, Purple Glazer got the attention it deserved.  It was thought to be very “juicy” and have a nice caramelized flavor.  In contrast to the rest of the varieties, Purple Glazer took on an intense caramel color upon roasting. We agreed that it was competing with Gourmet Red for one of the top spots in the roasted category.

China Dawn

China Dawn was a really beautiful garlic that we thought had a more floral smell than the others. Sweet with medium spice

China Dawn was one of Beryl’s top picks for raw.  It had a somewhat floral smell and a sweet taste.  It was not among the spiciest garlics, but there was some decent heat on the finish.  This was the first garlic we tasted roasted, and somebody said it seemed a bit bland.  But, we all agreed, after having just gone through a hour of tasting raw garlics, mightn’t the apparent blandness be because our mouths were used to the more stringent raw garlic?  Probably.  Perhaps we should have reversed the order of the tasting…

Raw Siberian was very mild and buttery, although after some of the other garlics we had tried, Melanie thought it was “not the most exciting.” I thought it was nice, and a mild garlic might be just the trick in a lot of circumstances.  If it lacked anything raw though, it made up for it once it was roasted.  It had the best texture of all the roasted garlics.  It turned into a smooth, buttery spread, but without any of the mealiness that some other garlics picked up in the oven.  Very  mellow and caramelized.

Susanville: At the time of tasting, we didn't know it's name, but we knew it started with an "S." It was a fairly sweet garlic though, so we dubbed it "Sweetie."

The least spicy garlic of the day was probably the Susanville.  It was also Patrick’s favorite.  Patrick is the wine steward at Nimbus and so has excellent taste and so gets 2 votes.  So, make that 3 for Susanville, because Jess liked it a lot too.  It was sweet and buttery with a lovely raw aroma, making it easy to consume rubbed on toast. When roasted, Talley thought it lacked flavor and was “unremarkable”. However, others, including Patrick, found it “smooth, sweet, and rich”. Later, Sam told us that Susanville is a notoriously good roaster. Talley shook his head when he learned that and decided he must just have weird taste in roasted garlic.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tokyo Terrace October 28, 2009 at 5:39 am

This is so neat! I didn’t realize how many different kinds of garlic there are. Occasionally I buy a purple-ish garlic here in Japan…I’ll have to send a pic when I find it again and maybe you can tell me which variety it is!

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Connie October 28, 2009 at 9:03 am

I’m a total geek for anything that is or tastes like garlic.

I bought some fresh garlic from Allstar organics farm back when I visited SF in August. WHAT a difference from the garlic I’m used to. I don’t know what cultivar it was, although it looked similar to the Purple Glazer in shape but more white on the outside. It was gentle and smooth, just gorgeous.

Loved reading this post. Brilliant.

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chocolate shavings October 28, 2009 at 11:52 am

I wish I was part of that tasting! I’ve never met a clove of garlic I didn’t love!

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Lindsey October 28, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I love garlic! It is truly a staple in our house : ) This post was so interesting! Thank you for doing it!

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Ann October 29, 2009 at 6:53 am

My favourite time of year is when fresh garlic shows up at our local farmers market. I stock up on a number of varieties that last me through to the New Year before I have to start buying grocery store garlic. My favourite is the Susan Delafield. I wonder if that is the same as your Susanville.

Great photos.

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Talley October 29, 2009 at 9:15 am

The Seeds of Diversity database lists both Susanville and Susan Delafield… so I guess they’re different varieties. We’ll have to search out some Susan Delafields!

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Tom October 29, 2009 at 7:32 am

Wow, that’s fascinating! Now it’s time to investigate whether the difference was due to the variety, terroir, harvest time, storage conditions…….

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Talley October 29, 2009 at 9:10 am

Hah… now THAT’d be a lot of garlic to taste!

I can certainly imagine that all those things would affect the taste of a garlic. In this tasting at least, all of the garlic was grown within 100 feet of each other, harvested at the same time, and stored in the same cool room together. So it seems to be a pretty controlled tasting for variations between variety and not growing, handing, or storage conditions.

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Ali October 29, 2009 at 11:22 am

these pictures are awesome — the garlics look so cute! my mouth is watering. question about cooking garlic (when you’re actually chopping or mincing it and not just eating straight cloves all the time): what’s your feeling about the peel? it’s always my instinct to remove it before chopping, but i feel like a bunch of asian-inspired cooks say just to chop it all up with the skins on. thoughts?

Reply

Talley October 29, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hi Ali!
wow, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone chopping up the skins of garlic along with the rest of it. Certainly, people will use the side of their knife to smash the clove to facilitate removal of the skin. Or if you’re making a stock you can just throw it in without peeling… But actually chopping and eating the skin? That’s a new one to me…
Are any readers here aware of such a practice?

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Zev October 30, 2009 at 12:11 am

Forza Aglio!

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Dana Zia October 29, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Ahoy maties! Happy to find fellow garlic fiends. I agree with you, discovering the different garlics is a whole new world opened up that makes life a bit more complicated, but delicious. We live on the North Oregon coast and have loved garlic sooooo much that we ave decided to start a small oreganic garlic farm. (still in the baby stage) In fact today we planted 1500 garlic cloves…in the rain. Tomorrow….1500 more till we get the 7000 cloves we have saddled ourselves with planted. Crazy? I think so, particularly after today! Anyway, thanks for the taste tests. Even though we have 28 types of garlic we don’t have the gourmet red. Hummm, 29?

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Beryl October 29, 2009 at 11:20 pm

7000 is baby stage?!

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Talley October 30, 2009 at 10:45 am

holy cow… seriously. that’s awesome. so what are your favorite varieties?

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Zach November 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Catching up here and this post is amazing. One of the best from a blog full of “bests”. Wish we could have been there!

Reply

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