Asian and Italian influences revitalise speciality garlic scene
Aglione or Kissingarlic hails from Italy's beautiful Val di Chiana region

Asian and Italian influences revitalise speciality garlic scene

Angela Youngman
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Kissingarlic producer
Lorenzo Bianchi with his Kissingarlic

Garlic is just garlic – or is it?  Ever tried Kissingarlic or black garlic?  Produce Business UK looks at two emerging garlic trends that stand out from the garlic crowd but won’t leave aficionados with garlicky breath

Uncovering Aglione

Hidden in the depths of the Italian Val di Chiana region is a rare and endangered heirloom garlic species known as Aglione.  It has existed since Etruscan times and there are fewer than 10 producers growing around 2,000 bulbs each year. Traditionally Aglione is known as “the garlic kiss”. Very popular with professional chefs, Aglione forms an essential part of a classic Italian recipe Pici all’aglione.

Two entrepreneurs intent on reviving heirloom varieties are Alessandro Guagni and Lorenzo Bianchi. Guagni believes that many varieties have fallen out of fashion due to “commercial logic. We will move forward through the rediscovery of agricultural products of excellence, grown organically with the goal of discovering new tastes and widening the horizons of the food industry,” he says.” Having focused on the growing of Aglione, this unusual combination of a former construction engineer and a commercial lawyer have set up a business devoted to growing and marketing Aglione under the name Kissingarlic. 

“We started growing it three years ago and will start selling it next summer. Consumers and restaurants are already asking for it,” says Bianchi. Aglione is being grown organically using traditional methods, with machines used only for seed sowing and providing transport.  All fertilising and weeding is undertaken by flocks of ducks that eat the weeds but avoid the garlic plants. Their droppings fertilise the soil.  The bulbs are large, possessing between four to eight cloves and can weigh around 900g each.

What makes Aglione so special is the fact that it can grow up to 10 times the size of standard garlic and does not contain allicin.  It is the allicin that causes the pungent smell and taste of garlic. As a result, Aglione has a much milder flavour. As Bianchi indicates: “Aglione is really different. It is lighter, soft, digestible and does not cause bad breath.”

Shedding light on black garlic

Closer to home in Dorset, The South West Garlic Farm has revived an ancient style of garlic preservation which turns garlic cloves black, giving them a very special taste.  Wendy Botwright explains.  “We were sheep farmers and my husband Mark started growing garlic as a hobby.  He brought some Elephant garlic, it seeded and kept growing so we began selling it.  He came across a Korean recipe book containing this method of preservation and had a go in our kitchen Aga.”

The garlic bulbs have to be stored for 40 days and nights at a very strict temperature.  This is a traditional form of storing garlic so that it lasts longer, yet maintains all the health and nutritional benefits.  In doing so, it also transforms it, allowing the cloves to ferment. When ready, the black garlic has an almost liquorice-like texture, with an aged balsamic vinegar flavour with hints of cardamom. The resultant cloves can be cut and instantly used without cooking in pastas, roasts, stir-fries and even as paste on ciabatta bread.

“The smell and texture are different.  It is easier to cut, and doesn’t leave you with garlicky breath.  We decided to do it properly, initially as a project during the winter months.  In 2013 we entered the Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food and won a star rating.  It got people talking about us, and began to attract attention.  Sales quadrupled.”

Black garlic
Black garlic: a liquorice-like texture and a taste of balsamic vinegar and cardamom

Black Garlic from The South West Garlic Farm is now sold in a wide range of farm shops, specialist delicatessens and via their website. Consumer response is excellent.  Andreas Georghiou from Andreas grocers in London says “We are a permanent stockist of black garlic from The South West Garlic Farm. It is a product that has keen interest from our customers, and is well received.”   Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi and James Martin are among the many chefs using the farm’s product. Much of the marketing effort has been focused on social media since Mark Botwright is a Twitter fan, sending out tweets daily to chefs about the product. Responses have been very positive.  Chef Valentine Walker tweeted that black garlic was “delicious – very nice with lamb, toasted oats and lightly smoked sheep’s curd”.  It has also featured on BBC Good Food and BBC Escape to the Country.

As Wendy indicates, they are very proactive in working with chefs and food shops due to the need to show how it can be used.  “Chefs use black garlic as a flavour enhancer.  We have taken it to chefs and sat around a table with all kinds of food, experimenting to see how it works.  It works especially well with meat.”

Black Garlic is still quite rare in the UK.  It is produced much more extensively in the US state of California and in China, and limited quantities are imported. 

“Imported black garlic is different to ours.  This is due to the different types of garlic bulbs and the length of time it is stored.  We are doing it locally, so the time span after preservation is very short, making it much fresher.  We only use fresh garlic and use up all that we grow.  We do not store it.  People like to use local produce and know where it is produced,” says Wendy.

The Botwrights believe that the potential market is huge. Wendy says: “It is an untapped market because black garlic is so different.  The health market has not even been touched.  We have got a woman locally who is producing preserves using black garlic in her fruit chutneys. We have got plans to keep growing the business and Mark has got lots of ideas for different products.  We have just introduced black garlic sea salt and black garlic sugar as a result of our experimentation.  The feedback from chefs has been really good.  They love it.  A local butchers has been using garlic sugar to create a glaze on meat.”

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