We are in the midst of a garlic renaissance. Never before have more garlic cultivars been so widely available and so widely appreciated. Among the hundreds of different varieties in 11 horticultural groups, the following garlics are my recommendations for different needs. Because climate, growing practices and storage conditions all affect the way garlic performs, many other cultivars might work as well or better for you. Use these suggestions as a point of departure for your own explorations. In time, you will develop your own list of favorites.
Turban cultivars are the earliest-harvested garlics. They might not have the richest flavor, but I find the juicy cloves of fresh Turbans are most welcome after weeks of gleaning the past season’s harvest of other varieties. Try: ‘Luster’, ‘Shandong’ or ‘Uzbek Turban’.
Tolerant of Severe Winters
The vigorously bolting hardneck garlics (which are closely related to the wild strains of Central Asia) are best adapted to survive harsh winters. These include cultivars of Purple Stripe, Porcelain, Marbled Purple Stripe and Rocambole groups.
Tolerant of Hot Climates
Garlic needs a period of cool temperatures to develop bulbs, but some types need a shorter cooling period than others. Garlics from the Artichoke group are among the best for regions with warm winters and springs. Cultivars from the Creole group also do well in hot areas, but their bulbs are generally smaller.
Excellent Flavor, Long Storing
Many cultivars in the Creole group store very well and have excellent taste. I’ve eaten Creoles that had been in storage for more than a year, and though not in their prime, still had good flavor. Try: ‘Burgundy’, ‘Creole Red’, ‘Manuel Benitee’, ‘Pescadero Red’ or ‘Rojo de Castro’.
Exceptionally Long Storing
Garlic cultivars from the Silverskin group can be stored the longest. Their flavors vary, depending on growing conditions and storage, but usually they are hot and aggressive without the complexity of other garlic groups. Silverskins taste best when minced and sautéed to a light straw color. Try: ‘Locati’, ‘Nootka Rose’ or ‘Rose du Var’.
Excellent Flavor, Medium Storing
Cultivars from the Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe groups are not as sweet as Rocamboles, but their flavors are intense and complex. Some aficionados prefer them to Rocamboles, and they store longer. A few softnecked Artichoke cultivars also store well and have good flavor. Artichoke cultivars are among the most productive and easy to grow garlics—they develop very large bulbs, adapt to a range of soils and rarely bolt, making them favored for commercial growing. Try: Purple Striped ‘Samarkand’, ‘Shatili’ and ‘Shvelisi’ or Glazed Purple Stripe ‘Vekak’. The Artichokes ‘Kettle River Giant’, ‘Lorz Italian’ or ‘Tochliavri’ also are good.
Excellent Flavor, Short Storing
Many garlic enthusiasts (including me) think Rocambole cultivars are the best-tasting of all. Rocamboles have a rich, deep, complex flavor—sweet as opposed to aggressively sulfurous. They are my favorites when raw garlic is called for, such as for crushing and mixing with vinegar or lemon and olive oil for a salad. Rocamboles also are among the best when garlic is prominently featured in the cuisine.
Rocambole garlics are at their juiciest just about the time that fresh corn becomes available. Unfortunately, Rocamboles store poorly and are fussy about growing conditions, requiring a period of winter cold to grow well. They peel exceptionally easily, part of the reason for their short storage life. Try: ‘Carpathian’, ‘Killarney Red’, ‘Russian Red’ or ‘Spanish Roja’.
Exceptionally Large Cloves
All Porcelain cultivars have exceptionally large cloves. Try: ‘Leningrad’, ‘Music’, ‘Romanian Red’, ‘Rosewood’ or ‘Zemo’.
Sources of “Seed” Garlic
• August’s Harvest, Inc., (877) 272-1742, www.AugustsHarvest.com;
• Bobba-Mike’s Garlic Farm, www.GarlicFarm.com;
• Filaree Farm, (509) 422-6940, www.FilareeFarm.com;
• The Garlic Store, (800) 854-7219 (12-8 ET, Mon. to Sat. only, please), www.TheGarlicStore.com;
• Gourmet Garlic Gardens, (325) 348-3049, www.GourmetGarlicGardens.com;
• Hood River Garlic, (541) 386-1220, www.HoodRiverGarlic.com;
• Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, (509) 964-7000, www.GardenCitySeeds.net;
• Nichols Garden Nursery, (800) 422-3985, www.NicholsGardenNursery.com;
• Seeds of Change, (888) 762-7333, www.SeedsOfChange.com.
Ready to try growing your own garlic? Please see "Gourmet Garlic from the Ground Up."