This will be our fourth year of planting garlic — the Phillips, Music and German Extra-Hardy garlic all originally came from Fedco Seeds, also in Maine, and were originally chosen for their cold-hardiness, as well as taste. Now in their third generation, they’re acclimated to our garden’s conditions. The Rossa di Sulmona, also a hardneck, is something new we’re trying out this year.
• Phillips: This heirloom garlic is known for its large bulbs, winter hardiness, and good storage qualities, and is gaining popularity here in Maine. Fedco Seeds: “Molly Thorkildsen and Will Bonsall obtained this vigorous Rocambole from Raymond Rowe of Phillips, ME. Each bulb contains 6-8 large cloves with a milder flavor than Russian Red. The tan exterior skins and purple mottled clove coverings are substantial, making this an excellent keeper. Slow to emerge in spring, so don’t be alarmed when these take an extra two weeks to appear. They catch up quickly and mature at the same time as other varieties.”
• Music: A porcelain variety, stores well up to nine months. Fedco Seeds: “Similar to German Extra Hardy, with large succulent cloves. Our supply comes from Wellspring Farm in central New York state, where folks have been growing NOFA-certified organic since 1991 and are founding members of the Garlic Seed Foundation.” Seed Savers: “Italian variety brought back to Canada by Al Music in the 1980s from his homeland. Hailed as one of the best varieties for consistent production. Sweet pungent flavor, very tight, durable heads.”
• German Extra-Hardy: Also a porcelain variety. Fedco Seeds: “Selected for size. Big bulbs yield huge cloves, each equivalent to about two or three cloves of supermarket garlic. Perfect for production pesto-making or avid garlic fans. White outer skin, red inner skins. Excellent storage. May be the same as German Stiffneck and German White.” Seed Savers: “Vigorous grower with long roots that enable it to overwinter without heaving out of the ground. Outside skin is ivory-white, but the clove skin is dark red. Strong raw flavor, high sugar content, one of the very best for roasting.”
• Rossa di Sulmona: Seeds of Italy: “A wonderful red hardneck variety from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It is a favorite of Italian cooks because it has an assertive garlic flavor, yet is somewhat sweeter than other garlics. That means it holds its flavor in long-cooking dishes like marinara sauce, but it can also be eaten raw on bruschetta. Like all hardnecks, Rossa di Sulmona has large, easy-to-peel cloves arranged in a circle around the central stem. It is a very cold hardy variety (Abruzzo is a mountainous region) but the tradeoff is that it does not store as well as softnecks.”
We try to taste new garlic before committing to planting it. As in past taste tests (rubbed raw on toasted bread), the Music was by far our favorite, but with only 4 to 5 cloves per bulb, it has taken us awhile to build up enough stock for both storing and planting. We’d planned to plant only two varieties this year — the Phillips and the Music — but couldn’t bring ourselves to skip the German Extra-Hardy after spending several years adapting it to our garden. As for the Rossa di Sulmona, I have to confess it was an impulse purchase. I was beguiled by its magenta colored wrappers and its Italian provenance, so we’ll plant a couple of rows of it and see how well it fares here.