As I previously stated, there are three main categories of garlic: hardneck, softneck, and Creole. Below I'll discuss some varieties in each category, pointing out commonalities and also differences.
HARDNECK - This garlic can be grown practically anywhere, but when it comes to cold climates this is the garlic to plant. These varieties usually will be harvested 2-3 weeks before the softneck and Creole varieties. Hardneck, because it has a thinner outer wrapper, will have the shortest storage time, 4-6 months. A typical hardneck variety will have fewer and thus larger cloves.
1. Shilla - This garlic will have a white wrapper on large bulbs. With only 8-10 cloves, these cloves will be quite large. This garlic is rated 7.5/5 and thus will be full-flavored with moderate heat. The garlic experts say this garlic has a Dijon mustard flavor. I just love the Shilla garlic, and because it is one of my favorites I grow more of it than any of the other varieties.
2. Maiskij - The name is Russian for "May," the month it is usually harvested. These bulbs will be a bit smaller than Shilla, but will have a beautiful purplish-blush coloration. The cloves will be tan with purple stripes. This garlic is rated 5/5, so it is moderate in flavor and heat.
3. Sonoran - These will also be medium-sized bulbs and will have a purple striped wrapper, sometimes being almost entirely purple. This garlic has a wonderful musky garlic flavor and is rated at 5/3. Thus, this garlic doesn't have a lot of heat but has good flavor.
SOFTNECK - This garlic is typically grown in milder climates, but a lot of it can be grown and is grown in the northern tier of states, wherever there are milder micro-climates. Softneck generally will be harvested 2-3 weeks after the hardneck. Because it has a thicker outer wrapper, it will store for 6-9 months. Softneck often will have large bulbs and 12-20 cloves. Softneck is the garlic that is used for braiding. If you want to braid it, be sure to tell the grower when you order it. Otherwise, those leafed stalks will be cut off after curing.
1. Red Toch - With these garlics, you will often see "Red" in their names. I don't really know why. They seldom have red coloration. These will be large bulbs and thus fairly large cloves. This garlic originated in Georgia (Eastern Europe, not USA). This is perhaps the best of the garlics to braid. It is rated 7/2 and thus has a nice depth of flavor yet has very low heat. It is one of the best garlics to eat raw.
2. Viola Francese - The name gives this garlic's origin away. It hails from southern France and northern Italy. These bulbs will have a beautiful purple striped wrapper and will be medium in size. This garlic is rated 4/5 and thus is fairly mild in garlickiness and pungency.
3. Blanco Piacenza - Again, the name tells us that this is an Italian variety. For some reason this garlic is seldom seen for sale, and when it is, it is very expensive. Last year a commercial grower was selling this garlic for $9.95 per quarter pound. Wow! These bulbs will be medium-large and are rated 5/5. Thus the flavor and heat are moderate.
4. Siciliano - Another of the Italian varieties, hailing from Sicily. The bulbs are medium in size. If "pretty" is used in describing garlic colors, this one is pretty. These bulbs will be purple with pink undertones.
CREOLE - For decades these varieties were said to be softneck, but DNA testing proved that wrong. Now they are a completely separate category and, for good reason, are called "The King of the Garlics." It isn't that the bulbs are overly large or overly colorful, though there are many with beautiful bulbs. It isn't that the flavor is vastly superior to many of the other garlics. Their lofty standing is due to the fact that these garlics will retain their flavor and pungency even when cooked, and because of their thick wrapper they store so well. It is not unusual for these varieties to keep their flavor and pungency even after being stored for 12 months. The coloration of many of the varieties' cloves can range from red rose to dark purple. Creole garlic is by far the hardest garlic to find for sale and is thus the most expensive. Most commercial growers won't have any Creole garlic whatsoever, and those that do will greatly limit how much you can purchase. Most will limit you to 1-3 pounds of a variety!
1. Burgundy - These will be medium to large bulbs, and when you see how beautiful these bulbs and cloves are, you are almost hesitant to disturb them. The wrappers are a lovely deep rose and the cloves are almost red, with light burgundy streaks. But eat it you must. It is rated at 4/4, and although that rating would indicate that it is a fairly mild garlic, it still is richly flavorful with moderate heat.
2. Ajo Rojo - This will always be a garlic lover's favorite. The bulbs are medium-large and the wrapper will be pale white. The cloves are a beautiful red to crimson in color. The rating is perhaps the top of all the garlics, coming in at 8/8. Though the flavor is intense and deep and the pungency will knock your socks off, the flavor is described as slightly sweet.
3. Rose de Lautrec - This garlic hails from southern France. The bulbs will be medium-large and the cloves a beautiful rose-purple-tan. This galic is rated 4/5 and thus is moderate in flavor and heat. The flavor is described as being a complex muskiness but with an underlying Dijon mustard or horseradish finish. Like the Blanco Piacenza, this one, if you can find it at all, will be expensive, selling for $9.95 per quarter pound!
In past years I have grown Native Creole, Labera Purple, and Spanish Bentee, but I could not find any of these for sale. As I said, Creole is simply difficult to find. This year I grew only the three Creoles mentioned above. I will mention one other Creole, and it is the Cuban Purple. I have never grown this one, but it is said that this garlic grows well in the coastal areas from Texas to Florida. I am going to try to find it for my fall 2015 planting.
There are many other varieties of garlic sold, but the above are the ones I personally know about and grow.
Rose de Lautrec
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