Good for You: Local Garlic

By Whitney Pipkin, photo by Jennifer Chase

Garlic adds depth of flavor to recipes and comes in many different varieties.

Garlic adds depth of flavor to recipes and comes in many different varieties.

Apples get all the attention this time of year. But if you really want to keep the doctor away, consider a little Allium a day. We’re looking at you, garlic.

Garlic cloves not only make nearly every savory dish that much better, they also increase your defenses against the common cold, can be stored and eaten year-round and are easy to plant and grow on your own.

Most local produce farmers grow at least two varieties of garlic: hardnecks, which sprout those lovely curly-straw green scapes in the spring and come in stronger, more varied flavors, and softnecks, which store well with soft, braidable strands.

And then there are the rare garlic-only growers, like Jim Reinhardt of Nature’s Garlic Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The farm specializes in flavorful varieties such as “German White Porcelain” and “Music,” offering an online garlic CSA and garlic-growing workshops on weekends in September and October. (That’s when garlic cloves should be planted, pointy side up and about six inches apart, to percolate over the winter before being harvested the following year.)

Reinhardt’s garlic is sold online and at retail stores like Wegmans Food Markets in Maryland, but he warns that most garden-variety garlic sold at grocery stores comes from China. (Buyers can usually distinguish it from domestic garlic, because the roots have been removed to make it through customs.)

“Garlic is an amazing plant,” says Reinhardt, who grew 10 acres of garlic this year and doubles his acreage every year to keep up with demand. “The more I grow it the more I fall in love.”

Garlic and its antibiotic properties have been used to ward off illness for centuries. Travelers were often given a pocket full of the potent stuff to keep them well on the roads—and to have something to plant back home. The plant can adapt to almost any environment, changing its characteristics based on where it’s planted (making “local” garlic that much more enticing.)

If garlic’s always come on a little too strong for you, consider its well-aged relative: black garlic. Virginia Tech’s food incubator happens to be home to a company that’s churning out some of the industry’s best aged garlic, which darkens, mellows and grows in complexity under low heat over time. The Blacksburg-based Obis One, LLC, sells its line of products—including the “Black Crack” pepper-grinder topping that was Saveur Magazine’s favorite condiment in 2016—online and in Mom’s Organic Market stores.

Can’t get enough garlic? Consider a day trip to the 28th annual Virginia Wine & Garlic Festival—where, as the posters say, “It’s chic to reek”—on October 13 and 14 in Amherst.

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