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.
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.
The Taste Test
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.