Shooting for the (Blue) Moon (Garlic) This Winter
Now that I'm all grown up, I've put brown-paper-packages-tied-up-with-string behind me and fallen flat in love with just the string. Elegant, cotton, and -- bien sur -- French. Blue Moon Farm, preeminent local producer of sustainably grown garlic, sells some handsome heads in the seductive bags above.
You may have to wait until the next growing season, though. Check the Blue Moon website to see varieties still available.
I always run out of Blue Moon garlic sometime between their last day at the Lexington Farmers Market in early November each year and their reappearance with my favorite, green garlic, when the Market reopens outdoors the following April.
The 2009 Music garlic was huge and plentiful. Blue Moon's website says this about Music:
Our most vigorous grower, pioneered by Canadian, Al Music. Good strong flavor. This large garlic features 5-8 BIG cloves per head, and is an excellent roaster. A favorite of the garlic lovers at our farmers' market, and some of KY's best chefs!
I decide to try storing enough Music garlic to last from November through April - in olive oil, as separate cloves, in the freezer.
There are issues...
Music garlic is a hardneck type, producing a flower stalk ("scape") during its growth cycle.
Local Harvest describes the hardneck/softneck difference:
Garlic varieties are broadly classified into two main categories: hardneck and softneck. The primary difference being that hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk and are often termed "topsetting" or "bolting" varieties.
Softneck garlics are very productive and produce smaller but more numerous cloves per plant. It is the easiest to grow and very adaptable in many climates and soils. The garlic flavor ranges from very mild to very hot.
The Hardneck garlic produces a "woody" flower stalk. The cloves are generally much larger and easier to peel. Garlics of this type have more complex and interesting flavors. Hardneck garlic is most closely related to wild garlic. Flowers, if they are produced, usually abort and form "bulbils" instead.
And so the dried mature Music garlic has a hard, woody central stem. To break the head into individual cloves requires some fingernails and wrist strength, or, when one plans to open a winter's supply of garlic heads, a nice broad knife blade (that's our trusty, sturdy, 6.5" Mac Superior Santoku).
Lots of heads, lots of cloves, but the work goes quickly with the big, beautiful cloves separating easily once the hard stem comes out.
A little softneck sidebar: Some softneck garlic heads can be opened without a knife. Gerard Depardieu demonstrated this in Green Card, making his manly ability to crush a garlic head a fragrant part of his seduction of Andie MacDowell's hardnecked (no, hardhearted) character -- but then Monsieur Depardieu is French, enough said. Here is a less romantic 36-second video of the softneck technique. Even though this how-to video lacks Depardieu's seductive power, the narrator still sports a beguiling accent.
Lots of garlic heads make lots of garlic waste for the compost bin. I put the keeper parts, the individual cloves, into the strainer insert of a large stockpot, and lowered the cloves into the big pot of boiling water. Just 30 seconds in the water loosens the skins on the individual cloves.
The Big Boil, left below, leads directly to the Quick Chill on the right. Moving the cloves directly from boiling water to an ice water bath stops cooking instantly so the garlic itself does not cook. This helps keep the garlic fresh-tasting after its skins come off.
Slipping the skins off each individual clove is a fun kitchen task, like slipping the skins off cooked beets. The Music garlic (and perhaps all garlic - I don't know) has a thin, slippery second skin surrounding each clove that makes for unexpected fun as cloves fly around the kitchen.
I fill my sterile pint jars with extra virgin olive oil, and store the jars in the freezer. Depending on the extent to which the olive oil freezes, it is possible to fish out a few cloves from the frozen jar. It is easier, though, to keep one pint jar in the refrigerator and use both garlic and oil within a short time after opening.
Big, total disclaimers are in order, and here they come: Garlic is potent and its chemistry, flavor, and effects on the body are affected by how it is handled, chopped, cooked, and stored. I do not begin to understand it all, so if you are interested, here is one starting point for more about the garlic chemicals known as alliin, allicin, allinase, and more. And here is a lot more information about garlic storage options (in a hard-to-read font), with no documentation for the interesting distinctions and claims.
To increase the chances that my winter garlic will retain all its good chemistry until I chop and use it, I try to keep the individual cloves of garlic intact and uncut. I remove any blemished ones, and do not trim the end or remove any green sprouts. Those tasks can wait until I chop and use each clove.
My winter garlic may not have all the health benefits of truly fresh garlic. I would be surprised if it did, given the blanching/handling/freezing it endures. On the other hand, I am ready to go any time with 40 Garlic Clove Chicken, as done by Alton Brown, Ina Garten, or the late, lamented Gourmet magazine (from 1967, reprinted 2001).